Along the docks in major ports you see massive ropes, mooring lines securely connecting huge vessels to land. Docking these ships is complicated and getting those ropes down to the piers is a problem that creative seafarers solved long ago. They wrapped the roping around itself at the ends, creating what appeared to be clenched fists or monkey’s paws. Sailors heaved them from the decks to dockhands far below, who caught them, safely securing them. Something small, therefore, brings in something large. David Sandler, Sandler Training’s founder, related the concept to selling, helping countless sales reps win business by proposing smaller pieces of larger deals to convince prospects to take action – monkey’s paws.
They’re especially powerful where the price or scope of a large contract might be intimidating but something smaller gets the deal moving. Or when validating a solution’s effectiveness eases doubt in a prospect’s mind.
With enterprise selling’s complex solutions often bundling multiple providers’ offerings together, monkey’s paws take on many sophisticated variations. Pilot projects are proposed to allay prospects’ fears, proving an ultimate solution’s effectiveness through addressing some subset of the account’s overall needs. Prototypes also simulate full solutions or parts thereof and may or may not have reusable elements. Trials are commonly employed as small-scale initiatives, testing planned engagements to weed out flaws prior to full-blown implementations. Proofs-of-Concept (POC’s) preview larger solutions through smaller, limited duration exercises, providing validation and insights into the provider’s ability to deliver. And Minimum Viable Products (MVP’s) are bare-bones implementations, impacting only a minimal amount of features and functionality while hopefully creating value, sparking user engagement, and generating valuable feedback to enhance the full solution. There are many other ways to facilitate test drives in the enterprise world, some as complex as the bundled solutions they preview. And of course, we also see entry-level vehicles in selling to small and medium-sized businesses. I think back to my Xerox days and our common strategy of giving equipment demonstrations, a practice still popular with software, facilitated now through the convenience of e-delivery.
There’s no question that these variations of monkey’s paws can be hugely effective in helping to win business. And if an enterprise deal really and truly depends on “Prove it or Lose it”, these vehicles often provide the verification, sealing the victory.
But, taking all this into account, “Beware the Monkey’s Paw!”.
Why? Think about it. Betting on introductory engagements, regardless of form, is fraught with risk. When you begin such initiatives, you can be assured that all the client team members are fully aware that their commitment to you is only temporary, whether or not you’re being paid. From the executives to the actual users, their connection to you in this awkward time will be much softer than if you had secured the full business. Their availability, their guidance and their candor all come at arm’s length. And given that the ultimate prize is still in doubt, those client contacts who favor a competitor might not directly sabotage your efforts but may be less than helpful, while confidentially keeping their preferred partner in the loop on what’s happening.
With your team working diligently to prove value, you’ll be judged in the spotlight’s glare. Your every action will be monitored, with mistakes tallied and magnified by the likely hovering presence of contracts and legal team members. The high stakes and high risk equate, of course, to high costs for you. Again, whether billable or not, monkey’s paws almost always bring great expense. For in your often superhuman efforts to overdeliver to insure, at all costs, transition to the big win, you’ll overspend in finances, time and effort. And as for your people, your likely diversion of the best and brightest to this critical initiative will leave a debt to be paid. As the expense faucets flow, the opportunity costs will pile up.
And the monkey’s paw minefield also presents the very real danger of free consulting. Visibly exposing your capability, innovation and ideas in your efforts to impress can often divulge too much. Successful initiatives can end with newly enlightened clients positioned to continue on with the process by following the steps you outlined. On their own, without you. Or even worse, partnered with a competitor. Or maybe the effort goes so well, that the client wants to give you the big deal, but at a reduced price. Beware, indeed.
So, how should you proceed? First, make certain that you comprehensively prepare and follow an effective process in building your solution with due diligence. Your Go/No-Go analysis must insure that both the account and the deal are right for you. You must know for certain that they fit your profile. Then, when accounts demand pilots, trials or POC’s after having requested proposals for full engagements, make every effort to stand your ground. If some type of monkey’s paw must be delivered due to legitimate issues of the timing of funding or verification, proceed with great caution. And only after gaining concrete agreement on the risky introductory initiative’s clearly-defined end point. And only only after you’ve made the business case for proceeding in full partnership from the outset, exuding confidence in your total solution. And only, simply put, if you absolutely must. Be smart, of course, but don’t do yourself, your team or your solution a disservice. For in the end, you’ve earned the right to win the full business you’ve bid on.