Commit to the chase

Story time! Years ago, at a financial services conference, after numerous noodle bowls, I was sitting in on a session about replatforming core banking systems. One of the panel members—let’s call him Chris—was responsible for the lending side of a large well-known financial institution.

I genuinely liked Chris. He was saying the right things, he seemed like a decent guy, and I honestly thought that Devbridge could make a serious dent in the list of needs for his company if we would only be given the opportunity to work with them. I intentionally sat at the front of the room (first row, to be exact) and asked Chris a couple of follow-up questions during the Q&A. I asked somewhat controversial questions. I challenged the panel on the domain, called them out on their bullshit. This sort of candor and genuine intent is incredibly powerful in sales. An average salesperson may launch into a practiced pitch that lacks authenticity or any type of human emotion.

Now that I’d had an initial interaction with Chris (my target for the event), I made sure to intercept him as the session was ending before he could bolt out of the room. Most execs try to disappear the moment the session ends, knowing that salespeople are locking in on them as a prospect. It’s best to find a way to go above and beyond to make your interaction with an exec meaningful at a later time when you’re not one of many. Personally, I like to approach them, shake their hands, thank them for their great content, and then leave them the hell alone. Whatever you do—do not pitch to them on the spot.

The next thing I did was find Chris on LinkedIn and immediately send a follow-up message to build on our initial interaction. I complimented him on his contributions to the session I’d attended, told him I was the bald dude with big glasses asking all the tough questions, and let him know I had a booth at the event where we could meet up if he wanted to develop the narrative further. I purposefully did not try to explicitly sell him on our services. I hadn’t yet matured the relationship.

While he didn’t visit our booth or respond to my LinkedIn connection request note, I do recommend immediately following up with that second touchpoint because of recency bias. People tend to remember and react to things that have happened most recently. If you can compress four of your engagement touchpoints into two days, do it!

On my flight back to Chicago, I plugged my leads into Salesforce, started building my narratives for engaging the targets—noting Chris as a high-value target—right account, right individual, had a couple of touchpoints at the event. I sent him another message through LinkedIn, this time with a couple of crumbs to whet his appetite—namely, a link to the PowerUp video and an article on rapid prototyping challenging classical preconceptions of project management and funding:

Good afternoon, Chris:

We spoke at Sibos in Singapore (I was the tall bald guy). One—spot-on contribution during the panel re: how you’re handling innovation/product delivery. Two—after I flew back to Chicago, I thought you might enjoy some of the ideas we’ve built around managing cross-functional teams in dual-track scrum. We use an app both internally and with clients to visualize progress:

And some thinking around innovation/rapid prototyping process for financial services:

Hope you’ve enjoyed the event. Would love to work with you and your team.



Then I waited.

Now, remember—I had none of his personal information. I had only interacted with him via LinkedIn. I didn’t have his work email, cell or work number, or anything else. Luckily, my content struck a chord, and after a couple of follow-ups, Chris replied with a message that he was curious and would like to learn more—my content piqued his interest.

The next step for me was to get Chris and his team to agree to a capabilities presentation. This process took—I kid you not—close to a year! During this year, I kept on sending Chris emails, LinkedIn messages, custom videos I shot of myself pitching to him on our value, and voicemails. Multiple canceled sessions later, my perseverance got Chris to accidentally pick up his mobile phone (we got the number through a data buy). Finally, he agreed to dial into my keynote presentation. I could hear from the tone of his voice that he was genuinely interested. He wanted us to meet with his immediate reports and see where we could be a fit.

I flew out to Charlotte with a few other team members and spent an hour explaining our philosophy and process to Chris and his team. It was a lively discussion where people tried to fit in more questions, but the time soon ran out. Shortly after that, I sent Chris a summary of the session with some additional reading material:

Good morning, Chris:

Thank you for the trust and time yesterday. I recognize how valuable your team’s time is and appreciate the opportunity to share a fraction of our thinking and content. I was really happy with the lively discussion—always a good indication of how passionate and engaged people are when it comes to building better products. I suspect we could have gone for another three hours!

I’ve exported the deck if you want to circulate it with your team: LINK HERE

Next steps: I like to do business with people I like, and I have an even better feeling after having met you and the team yesterday. Others in your position have been exposed to Lean and they’re passionate about it, so the influence can come from multiple sources that believe in what we preach.

  1. **Recommendations: **Workshops. I left a couple of single-pagers on Lean Requirements and rapid prototyping. Those two tools are a great way to scope a block of work and perform some validation / get business buy-in. Let me know if there are any opportunities where you need to win favor from business/operations, and we could explore further.
  2. Training: We have a wealth of information on Agile transformation/adoption. I wouldn’t mind investing some of our time to share this with your teams. As long as you guys can facilitate / set up facilities / dedicate people’s time, it would be a good educational opportunity. At similar institutions, we’ve attacked this at two levels—executives and execution folks. The material is different for each group. Additionally, one of the biggest resistance points is “what does my role look like in this new process”; we could do a quick workshop to do role-mapping/explain that people continue to do their jobs, just in a different framework.
  3. Contracting: Assuming there will be initiatives in the future, should we get started on the MSA process? I’ll need your guidance/support here.

Let me know when you have fifteen minutes to jump on a call and recap. Would love your feedback on the content/discussion as well.

Thanks, A.

I again waited to find an appropriate opportunity. A workshop was finally scheduled in San Francisco where Chris would set the stage for the domain and the business opportunity, and then our team took over to run the Lean Requirements workshop to gather the information needed to get started. Nearly two years after the initial meeting, our team was notified that the business was interested in proceeding with the project.

Long story short, it took a substantial amount of time from initial connection to signed statement of work. This is what it takes to establish trust, create value, and then finally match your offering with the needs of a potential client.

The Secret Source by Aurimas Adomavicius

About the author

Aurimas Adomavicius is the president and co-founder of Devbridge. When not in the trenches working with clients, Aurimas is an active speaker and writer on product design and engineering best practices.

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