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Building Your Sweet Spot

by David Brock on September 10th, 2012

In my post, Focus On Your Sweet Spot, I spoke of the importance of developing a rich profile of your ideal customer and focusing viciously on qualifying opportunities within the sweet spot.  It’s a fundamental to sales success.  Too often, we have a poorly defined sweet spot or none at all.  This adversely impacts everything we do as sales people–our win rates our lower, our sales cycles are longer, our competitiveness is lower, our ability to defend our margins is lower, and our ability to create and leverage value for our customers is lower.  And then, for those we win, we have to support them and make them happy customers.

It’s difficult to be successful, growing rapidly and profitably, creating customers who are raving fans when we don’t have a sweet spot.

But what happens when our sweet spot becomes a constraint to our growth and success?  How do we deal with this?  There are a number of strategies, the right one (s) can depend on a number of things.  Before getting into them–these are corporate strategies or strategies driven by top management.  They represent strategic priorities and initiatives for the organization and the organization needs to align resources and commitments to support the implementation and execution of these strategies.

Sales people should not, unilaterally, be venturing out of the sweet spot.  It doesn’t make sense, why would you consciously choose to pursue customers in an area where you are going to be less successful?  Where your win rates will be reduced, where your sales cycle will be longer, and where it may be more difficult to create and defend your value.  Managers asking sales people to commit time selling outside the sweet spot must recognize this,  They must adjust their performance expectations.  They must look at resources, programs, support to help the sales person be successful when they direct sales people to venture outside the sweet spot.

Having said that, companies need to sustain growth.  Sometimes the sweet spot is insufficient to support the growth goals and we need to shift our strategies.  There really are a few core strategies that companies look at:

  • How do we find more stuff to sell within our current sweet spot?
  • How do we find more customers to sell the stuff we are currently selling?
  • How do we sell new stuff to new customers?  (Very risky–but this is what start-ups are all about)

Geoffrey Moore’s Bowling Alley model introduced in Crossing The Chasm is a perfect model for implementing these growth strategies.

Basically the Bowling Alley model looks for the next “adjacency.”  Hitting the head pin with the bowling ball causes the head pin to hit the second and third, and so on.  So what do these adjacencies look like:

Selling more stuff in our current sweet spot:  Are there “adjacent” problems we can solve for the customers (people) that currently buy our products.  Do they have problems that we aren’t solving?  Are there new ways of doing things that we can introduce.  These discussions are important, they enable us to develop and introduce new products and services, expanding what we do with the customers who know and love us.  I’m working with a small client now.  They sell services in the education (K-12) market.  They have a very large share with their current customers (principals and district supervisors), but they see major disruptions in education, teacher effectiveness and teacher performance.  They are having very rich conversations about this with their current customers, developing new services and programs to offer them, and creating tremendous opportunities for growth with their current customers.

Finding more customers to sell the stuff we currently sell.  Again, the bowling alley model serves us very well–but a couple of interesting ways.  The first is, how to we find more customers within the current enterprises we sell to?  This is the exception to my statement that expanding your sweet spot is a strategy issue.  Sales people must continually expand the penetration of their accounts.  But it may require some non-traditional thinking.  For example, one of my clients had traditionally sold it’s products to design and development engineers.  In their key accounts, they had huge penetration of this segment of their customers.  But then they discovered manufacturing!  Their products had tremendous application within manufacturing–and the volumes were significantly higher than in engineering.  This simple discovery enabled them to dramatically grow within their current customers.

Selling more stuff to segments adjacent to our current sweet spot.  This is a fundamental in Moore’s bowling alley model.  Once we have established ourselves in a key market.  We understand that market, we have good a good reputation and great references.  Moving into closely adjacent but different market segments is much easier.  Some of our skills and capabilities can be extended–yes, we have to develop some new skills, we have to develop deep understanding of the new customers and markets, but there may be a lot of similarities we can leverage.  For example, if our core market has been providing manufacturing equipment to automotive manufacturers, we might be able to grow into industrial equipment suppliers.

We may have to modify our products and services a little.  We certainly have to extend our understanding of the markets and customers.  But the stretch is very different then going into a completely different, random market and trying to understand and create value in this market.

Too often, sales people and their companies have no focus or little discipline in looking at and growing in markets.  This is simply wrong!  Defining our sweet spot, focusing viciously on it maximizes results–it increases win rate, decreases sales cycle, increases deal profitability, and increase overall sales effectiveness!  A disciplined approach to expanding the sweet spot allows us to grow with least risk and maximum impact.

How do you expand your sweet spot?



Interested in our Sales Management Operating System–a framework to look at the entire sales function and how the different pieces, parts fit together? Ask for our free interactive MindMap by emailing dabrock@excellenc.com with your full name, company and company email.

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