The Legend of the Purple Squirrel
You are a sales team in an enterprise deal and here's the situation:
You're up against a behemoth of a competitor
The evaluation is poorly managed and you have been forbidden access to the decision makers
You have one last shot to win
What do you do?
To recap the previous installment, my team was working on an opportunity with a DC non-profit organization. We were hastily called in and provided a straightforward, sincere, presentation on our capabilities, followed by an awesome lunch at the Capital Grille, and we made the final list of two. It was down to us and Microsoft.
To win, we had to win. A "tie" and my competitor wins. And lets not forget the whole "No one gets fired for buying Microsoft factor". We were the riskier purchase. To top it all off, every bit of technology in that shop was Microsoft and we were written in Java.
All things being equal we really were a better fit. The prospect had over 20 sites that they wanted in multiple languages, with pdf download, and xml syndication requirements. This was our sweet spot. However, because we had limited communications with the prospect, we needed a hook, an easily-consumed message that would resonate with the audience and strengthen our claim as a better fit for their requirements.
"The Purple Squirrel" idea actually came about as a result of a conversation with a seasoned consultant who claimed that given enough time, money, and resources, you could build (in software) anything, even a purple squirrel.
Now, before you go nuts and try something in your sale pitch that has only been successful in the cartoons, it is important to know that there are three criteria for anything included in your sales presentation:
In short, you want to be talking about the right things, to the right people, at the right time. Miss one of these criteria and you lower your chances of moving forward in the deal.
Cahill and I surmised that our most valuable advantage was that we had functionality relevant to the project that was part of our standard software install that would otherwise have to be custom built in the Microsoft software. The challenge was that the last scheduled meeting would be timed and scripted. When your meeting is scripted you can't veer too far off topic without looking like a real schmuck.
So we devised a way to draw a great deal of attention to our advantages, without veering off script.
We arranged our presentation accordingly with only the following modifications:
Early in the presentation we had a graphic of our purple friend with the words "Purple Squirrels = Time and Money" emblazoned across the screen.
Secondly we placed two types of small graphics throughout the presentation. The first was our friend, sized about .75" x .75", on those slides that discussed features that would have to be custom built in the Microsoft solution, underscoring the message that there was expenses involved with our competitor that where not applicable to our solution. For example in our solution you could have an unlimited number of stages in a document's work flow approval process. At that time, Microsoft's could only support five stages before custom code had to be used.
The second graphic was the squirrel with a red circle and line superimposed on it, in a manner that you see "No Smoking" signs. We placed those on the slides where we offered a feature out of the box that they would normally have to build. For example our solution would automatically manage embedded hyperlinks within content. So if a press release had a link to product information that had been updated or removed from the site, the link would automatically be removed or updated.
We pack up and fly to DC. We were a bit nervous, because if our audience didn't really "get" what we are doing, we are going to look real stupid, real fast.
We arrived for our meeting, exchanged introductions, and started on the first exercise in the script, using PowerPoint to explain what we were about to accomplish in the software and to highlight any relevant advantages of our approach, followed by a software demonstration. At the beginning, we explained that the squirrel logo was simply there to highlight those areas where we offer more value than our competitor. We proceed through each section of the script, without drawing any additional attention to the squirrel, but it was obvious the audience had conditioned themselves to look for the graphic as we progressed along, because every time the squirrel appeared the number of questions increased vs those slides without the squirrel.
After a meeting like this, you can feel good about it, but you really do not know how well you did. I have been in meetings where I thought we hit a home run, only to find out we were practically eliminated in the first 15 minutes. Conversely, we've all had those client experiences where you would rather have gone through a severe IRS audit, only to find out that you were the best presentation they had seen. After this stunt, I didn't have the courage to fathom a guess on how well we ranked.
"Sasser, what in the hell is a purple squirrel?" This is how my VP of North American Sales greeted me on our Monday Morning conference call the following week. A quick lesson, if you are going to try a Purple Squirrel Maneuver, and you have the experience and seniority to suffer the consequences if you fall flat on your ass, tell as few people as possible. It is usually those with the least amount of field experience that will try and stop you.
Anywho, my inside team had followed up with the prospect while I was on the plane ride back home. The prospect responded that they really enjoyed the "rodent" in our presentation, and went on to share that during the meeting with the other vendor, the phrase "Oh we can do that with a little extra code" by the vendor was answered with an almost group wide cry of "PURPLE SQUIRREL!!!!".
Yeah we won. My team looked like heroes and the Purple Squirrel became a legend.
Mainly because the circumstances never aligned where we deemed it necessary, we never used the squirrel again.