Business Lessons from the Wine List

| April 9, 2012 | 1 Comment

Last week I was speaking with the CEO of a $40 million consulting company.  She explained that her team has a ton of activity, yet business is actually declining a bit. And, they have increased spending on sales and business development without results.

The next night, my wife and I were at dinner with some friends, and as a group we were trying to decide which wine to order. Most of us are self-proclaimed wine snobs, whereas one of our friends is somewhat of a novice. He went down the list, pointed to one of the most expensive bottles and said “this one must be good.”  One of our other friends pulled up an app on his smartphone that showed a vintage chart: a table that shows the expected quality of a type of wine from that region in that year. The closer you get to 100, the better quality you can expect from that type of wine from that year. Next to that is a letter that suggests if that wine is likely to be “ready to drink” or not (remember Gallo’s commercial “we will serve no wine before its time”)? So as an example, Robert Parker, a top wine reviewer and expert, rates 2005 South Australian wine 96 points. So, you are likely to get a good wine if you order a 2005 South Australian Shiraz.

Unless you are a true wine aficionado, each wine on the list could appear to you to have the same potential for success.  Perhaps the more expensive bottles are better.  Or, maybe a name you’ve heard before – which reminds me of my wonderful, late mother who used to go to horse races and bet on the horses based on name.

The key to success is to become outrageously successful targeting and winning business. Targeting is much like a wine vintage chart. You want to define criteria that help you focus your efforts on those opportunities that are most likely to have a positive outcome. In business, too often I hear someone say “I’m interested in any client over $50 million in revenue.”  Or “we help companies with more than 500 employees.” Those targets are too broad, and may result in you, metaphorically, investing big dollars in bad wine.  Here are three keys to select the right targets.

  1. Proper Pairing: Each wine pairs well with specific foods. Similarly, your products and services are not a great fit for every client. Think about the types of businesses and specific challenges they might be facing where you are strongly positioned to help them succeed. Focus more on the challenges you excel at solving instead of your features. Tough love – nobody cares about your features.
  2. Check the Vintage: The great wine at the wrong time can be horrible. Similarly, when you get to an ideal prospect, you want the timing to be right. Ideally, you’d arrive when they have identified a problem, but not yet the solution. In those opportunities, when the timing is right, you will have a high chance for success. When the timing is not right, they might be “a good wine that is not ready to drink.”
  3. Be Patient and Nurture: Even a great wine requires patience. You might need to wait a few months for it to be ready to drink. Even when you open it, you might need to let it breathe or decant it to have it reach its potential. Similarly, I often see companies rush to close the deal. Be patient and nurture the prospect to reach the full potential.

Don’t waste resources on the first bottle or prospect you see. Be deliberate in how you target business, and you might just become outrageously successful targeting and winning business.

What is your greatest challenge targeting the right opportunities?

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Category: Consultative selling, Grow Revenue, Professional Services, Sales Eduction, Sales Tip, Upside-Down Selling

Comments (1)

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  1. Lee Frederiksen says:

    Ian-
    Great way of thinking about leads. Try to close before they are ready and ruin the whole opportunity. Thanks…lwf

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