Head Line

On my list of 10 ways to lose (even when you’re the best), reason #2 is “Your story is too complex.”

Complexity in the sales story is a common flaw of young companies as they are growing.  You’re afraid to turn away any business, so you try to do almost anything that any prospect wants you to do.  Big mistake!  First off, it doesn’t work, and it will cost you money and anguish before you finally learn that hard lesson.  But also, it confuses your customers, making them afraid to buy from you, and leaving them unable to make a case for you to others who sit at the Buyers’ Table.  Large companies also fall into this trap as they add more products, services, and divisions.  Without careful management, these decisions dilute your brand and frighten your prospective customers.

A couple of examples.  One variation of this theme is the company that can do many things well, but these things are incompatible for various reasons.  Some time ago I worked with an early stage software development company that had a software product to feed data to a mobile handheld device, before this became commonplace.  This product could be used to develop and play digital games.  It could teach repairmen to fix office machines on site.  And it could help early responders find people who had been trapped in rubble from some natural disaster.  All interesting applications, for sure.  But the people who buy lifesaving equipment are a little freaked to buy it from gamers, and many prospects were worried about how much time, energy, and service would be devoted to their solution as opposed to the others which they didn’t want or need.  Too confusing.

Another variation is overkill in the marketing materials.  Several companies in the education industry have this problem; they offer so many reasons that their solution is the right one that school officials and school boards become overwhelmed.  What is the primary purpose, the primary benefit to the schools?  Cost savings?  Teacher support?  Better learning?  Improved assessment?  Up-to-date technology? Engagement with parents? Administrative services?  In some cases all of these benefits accrue to the buyers, but it’s a rare buying group that can comprehend it.  They need a simple story about a few salient points.

Two ways to help solve the complexity problem:

  1. Simplify your business.  Make some hard decisions about your core business and target market.  Learn to say no to opportunities that don’t fit your Target Filter.  If you have several equally important lines of business, sell some off or market them through a strategic alliance.  Don’t allow your customers to be confused about who you are and what you do.
  2. Simplify your story.  If you have a well-defined product or service that is by nature complex or solves multiple problems, work hard to craft a clear and simple message.  Remember that old five-paragraph theme you learned in Freshman Comp:  an introduction, three main points, and a conclusion.  Learn from your current customers what are the benefits they most value, and use that knowledge to keep it simple.

Have you ever had to simplify your story?  How did you do it?