Don’t be a pill (explainer)

I should have known better. I spent 10 years in sales (three in sales training and two in sales management) at ADP, one of the largest and most stable companies in America and one that is known for its sales expertise. But there I was, holding the phone listening to the dial tone having just been hung up on. My message failed.

No message can ever save you from never hearing the word “no.” But I replayed the conversation over and over in my head and realized my mistake. I was telling the prospective customer what we “do,” instead of how we help and how our service would benefit the customer’s company.

In other words, I was explaining the intricate details of how all the ingredients of aspirin work inside the body, when all the customer really cares about knowing is whether it will cure her headache!

We’ll get into the solution to my issue in a moment, but first … how did I get here?

After 10 years of service at the Fortune 500 company ADP, I left to embark on a new career at a new Madison-based start-up company, TermSync. I am in on the ground floor of a new company. I will now have the opportunity to experience the world of business from a fresh and exciting vantage point.

In talking with the folks at In Business, I’ve agreed to blog about my experiences. There will be many topics – the stark difference between a large Fortune 500 company and a newer organization; leading and managing through growth; raising capital; sales management; product development; marketing messages; and who knows, maybe one day I’ll write about a successful exit. In the meantime, I just had to pause from writing this blog to help my CEO empty the trash (I’m not lying).

While these new experiences were a draw for me, none was so powerful as the passion and belief I have in the service. TermSync has created a brand-new business model. We help organizations get paid faster by automating their accounts receivable process with our Web-based platform.

That’s all good, but how do you sum that all up in a simple-to-understand message? How do you explain a brand-new service that’s not in existence today? People have the tendency to want to compartmentalize what you do. It’s human nature. Are you a collections agency? No. Do you buy our receivables? No. Oh, you must be an outsourcer of A/R. No.

So your audience is constantly trying to put you in a box, or a folder. How do you combat that?

I called on an old friend and explained my predicament. She was my boss several bosses ago at ADP. As always, she had the answer. “Bryon, think of a message like a bull’s-eye with three rings. In the center, the core, is what you do. The next ring is how you do it, but the final outside ring is why? Why does it matter? Your message lies in the why.”

Of course! Duh! I’ve been training this for years, but yet here I was holding a phone with a dial tone.

I called a company meeting, and we hashed this out over pizza and beers (ah, the joys of a start up!) We then interviewed a number of our clients and found out why they bought from us. We then asked some of our investors why they invested.

We discussed what we did: We automated the accounts receivable process using a new Web-based technology to send reminders and move money electronically.

We discussed how we did it: We work with our clients, and their customers, to get them signed up and then tie our technology into their accounting system to automate this process.

And then …

We discussed why it matters: Our clients get paid faster and we eliminate collection calls and costly man-hours, as 99% of our clients’ transactions are paid on, or even before, the due date.

Ta-da! We had it. It’s not perfected yet, but it’s a start. We are working on explaining our service not so much in the what or the how, but mostly in the why it matters.

It’s not like I haven’t been told “no” since, but our message is resonating. So if you’re looking to create a message, remember that it’s not about getting out there and explaining everything you do in minute detail, it’s about communicating the message in a way that shows the benefits to your clients. Cure the headache; don’t talk about the ingredients in the pill!