Passive aggressive? Try aggressive passiveness instead…

Have-sales-do-that-thing...Years ago I was selling micro displays into emerging markets. A guy who worked for me thought our displays could be an “electronic eyepiece” for telescopes and contacted various telescope companies about it. They all said no, primarily because they pride themselves on great optics and so an electronic eyepiece would need to be incredibly high resolution. However, in one of the conversations, the potential customer came up with another product of theirs that could possibly use our display. My employee was very focused on telescopes, but I had another call with them to hear what they were thinking.  That call ended up making us over a million dollars.

It turned out they were making digital night vision scopes with LCD screens and wanted to replace that screen with a viewfinder. Ironically, I was already contacting *other* digital night vision makers and did not even realize this telescope company was getting into that business (they had not announced anything yet). One site visit and many emails & phone calls later, we were designed into their first product! This success led to the other night vision makers wanting to also convert to micro displays, and since I was already talking with them it was easy to scoop up all the business. While the numbers weren’t huge, it ended up being over a million dollars in revenue at nearly 50% profit!

I learned a couple lessons from this experience:

1. Contacting players who are already in the industry you are trying to supply to seems like a no-brainer, but it can be hard to change the mind of people who are already doing things without your product or service. Sometimes, going after folks who are only just entering (or considering entering) the market can be much easier to get a design-win, as they are looking for differentiation right off the bat. These are hard to find, of course, but worth the effort (what effort?  See below…).

2. If you are truly contacting folks with the intention to help them and their business, you will end up listening as much or more as you do talking.  There is a great book called “Consultative Selling” which can be summed up with the difference between a doctor & a used-car salesman.  A doctor lets you talk first, and asks leading questions to get you to talk at length, before recommending a solution, whereas the used-car salesman jumps right to trying to get you to buy something.  Having a conversation that is aimed at *learning*, rather than talking, lecturing, or selling, is the key.  Doing this genuinely not only is more fun & interesting that just trying to sell all the time, but it can also lead to unexpectedly good outcomes.

The bottom line is selling, like virtually everything in life, is a funny balance.  You have to get out there and start doing something, but you then have to immediately be perceptive and open to feedback.  It’s almost like you have to quickly get active so you can be passive!

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