If you’re not familiar with the 12th man on defense, its a reference to the audience noise level that gave the Seattle Seahawks a major home-field advantage this past season in the NFL. It suggests there is one more defensive player than the 11 allowed on the field.
Selling also has a 12th man or woman, that plays against you or your team. Although we often think of competitors as the other alternatives in our industry, the 12th man is the competitive use of funds for other initiatives. When your opportunity is submitted as a purchase requisition for sign off, there may be one or more purchase requisitions competing against it for limited funding. It could be an application for a different department, additional headcount, or even a new parking lot… as one of my client’s discovered in a recent loss.
So after engaging with your contacts, successfully differentiating your solution, navigating a positive outcome on a Proof of Concept and committing an expensive amount of resources and time, you’re now up against a competitor you know nothing about. Worse, the sponsor of the competitive requisition may be a better sales person than your champion or sponsor. Research indicates that up to 30% of sales opportunities lose to the 12th man. In some cases it only means a delay until a new quarter or new budgeting cycle, but in some cases the loss is permanent. In either case, when you are trying to optimize your time and resources to reach a goal, this can be a costly proposition.
So how do you mitigate this hidden competitor? The first step is to arm your champion with an effective Executive Summary. I find that most sales people either don’t use an Executive Summary or they provide a “selfie” and label it an Executive Summary. (A selfie is a description of the seller’s own company and product. See our previous post on the topic.) The absence of an Executive Summary or an ineffective “selfie”allows the 12th man an opportunity to better position themselves on the playing field and connect more effectively with the executive sign-off authority.
An effective Executive Summary should include:
- An overview of the current and relevant business issues the prospect’s company is facing. For example, recent acquisitions, difficulty managing costs, new competitors, and so on. Remember, you’re trying to connect with a signature authority! So capture the subjects that are of interest to them now.
- A overview of the relevant problems or challenges that you will be able to resolve and contribute to the resolution of the business issue(s). For example, broken processes, manual processes, limited staffing resources, capacity limitations, and more. I call these the People/Process/Technology challenges. Many times, the sign-off authority doesn’t know the scope of the problem set or the implications of the problems.
- Identify the impact of taking or not taking action. The former is an opportunity, the latter is a cost. The most relevant impact is one cited by the customer themselves; “we have a goal to reduce costs by 15%”, or “the acquisition cost was over $100 million”, or, “our product revenue is down 10% due to new competition”. Sometimes the best we can do is an intangible impact: “potential lawsuits”, “regulatory fines”, or “loss of credibility”.
- Provide proof in the form of a reference story or quote. If they follow you’re logic on why buy something, why buy from you, and why buy now, the last question they have will be “can we trust them?” Supply them with a brief story about another customer who had the same business issues, problems and credible payoff/cost results. Lacking this, an analyst quote may help.
The best situation is where you or your team can deliver the executive summary in person. But if that’s not possible you should create an Executive Summary that can sell for you, or better equip your sponsor to sell on your behalf. Leaving out the Executive Summary gives the 12th man the opportunity to do a better job of connecting their solution to the business issues the sign-off authority is interested in addressing.
Kevin Temple is founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group. Kevin works with companies around the world to improve their sales and marketing practices and increase revenue. The Enterprise Selling Group is the leader in sales transformation.