Selling Electric Bikes –The Bicycle Industry’s New 800 Pound Gorilla

 

The term “old habits die hard” has never rung truer than with the bicycle business, be it for the manufacturers, independent bike dealers (IBDs) or the cycling purists who ride them—especially in the United States. This clear and present reality first slapped me in the face several years ago when I gave a presentation at the infamous Interbike Convention in Las Vegas, North America’s largest annual bicycle gathering.

Prior to the convention I’d been hired by the International Light Electric Vehicle Association as a marketing strategist, to refresh the value proposition and key messages for the LEVA website (www.levassociation.com) and other member marketing materials. Once completed, I was given a plum opportunity to create the first-ever global marketing campaign to drag die-hard IBDs onto the shifting landscape of electric bike technology and embrace this new phenomenon on behalf of their customers—from Seattle to Singapore.

I was hardly a newcomer to the industry. My foray into what was considered a fringe bike segment began in 2008 when a former fitness equipment client of mine, Bill Hebb of Hebb Electric Bikes fame, commissioned me to a study of the emerging trend he’d witnessed first-hand in Asia. The question he wanted answered—with data to back it up— was simple: “Is it the right time to start an ebike company in the US?”

After my thorough conclusions led to a green light on Bill’s idea to start a US-based ebike company, we quickly set out in earnest to become—and succeeded in becoming—the #1 rated independent electric bike brand in the mid-priced category in 18 short months.

It was not easy work. I won’t get side-tracked and bore you with all the challenges we faced with Chinese manufacturing, shipping, customs, and quality control. Those were mere speed bumps in the road. The real Mount Everest challenge was selling the ebike category–and an untested brand–to the 4,000 IBDs in America, 90% of which had zero interest in carrying an electric bike on their showroom floor.

It took me the better part of a year– after many hundreds of phone calls, demo videos, and emails– to discover a deeply etched pattern of resistance carved into the psyche of the dealers we were targeting to join our distribution network. I heard the same belly-aching over and over. “Electric bikes are a fad, they’ll never catch on…ebikes are crappy and unreliable…they’re dangerous when it rains…they’re illegal in most cities…they’re too heavy.” But the one that proved the most daunting—the one that persists today, albeit in diminishing intensity, is this one: “Ebikes are for cheaters. Our customers like to get a workout and wouldn’t dare sit on an ebike for recreation OR commuting.”

I won’t dignify that last comment with a response because anyone who owns an ebike will tell you they get just as much exercise as they want, but with two exceptions—they either go way faster or way farther than their conventional bike-riding counterparts. Plus, they have twice the fun.

Even in Portland, bike capital of America, there was staunch resistance to ebikes. In fact, in the early 2010’s I found skepticism rampant, especially among the Chrome-branded, messenger bag-toting bike commuters who rode, rain or shine, to and from work and the corner coffee café. Like a modern-day John the Baptist crying in the wilds of the Northwest with a solemn declaration ”Get ye on an ebike,” I feared a day would come when I’d get stoned in one of Portland’s many elitist bike shops, or at the annual bike show where I was slated to speak: http://smoothstonepartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Pedal-Nation-Portland-Bike-Show-2010.pdf.

Contrary to my fears, the presentation was a big success and paved the way for me to do additional work for LEVA and its ebike industry pioneer guru Ed Benjamin.

What I hear these days from manufacturers, distributors, dealers and their staff is clear and simple: “Our future is electric.” We’re now living in the bright, long-promised future for electric bikes.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about how to successfully sell electric bikes to even the most skeptical prospects–including the shaved-leg, carbon-frame criterion riders and custom bike shop owners. Here’s what I’ve learned, the rules for engaging potential ebike dealer customers and their ebike riding consumer prospects…

1. Shake the dust off your feet when dealing with doubters and haters — My friend Seth Godin once taught me that some skeptical buyers who are immediately dismissive to a new idea will always say “no”. For years I beat my head against the wall trying to persuade naysayers to carry the ebike lines I represented for two of the nation’s top-rated brands. Over time I learned a vital lesson: Avoid “casting your pearls before swine.” With a few exceptions, I’ve  never looked back. Those two brands that earned their top-ranking in the ebike industry got there quickly, partially by me figuring out which dealers to recruit and which to avoid.

2. Go where you’re celebrated — Similarly, it’s also critical that you get unilateral buy-in from several key stakeholders in any traditional bike dealership–the owner/manager, the lead service tech, and the star sales person. Any of the three can be the one bad apple that spoils the whole bunch. When the star sales guy with massive quads, shaved legs and bike pants saunters up to you (if you’re making an unannounced sales call) and asks Can I help you with something?, be prepared for a bit of banter and bluster. Better yet, opt for #1 and move on quickly. Your time is too valuable, and there are too many other open-minded IBD teams out there who are looking to enter the ebike foray with a solid ebike line to add to their traditional bike brands.

3. Start with 10 bikes — The worst thing an IBD can do is commit half-heartedly to the ebike category. No, even worse is when the owner buys two ebikes, they never sell so he gives up on the category. Big mistake. If you’re going to take ebikes seriously you’ve got to make a whole-hearted commitment to 10 bikes on your floor (with at least three of those ebikes in the sub-$2,000 retail price point). Otherwise, you’re ebike footprint looks like an afterthought and will be buried with other inventory. Worst of all, if the prospect walks out of your store and into an ebike retailer like a Pedego-branded store, well, you probably just lost a sale.

4. Do demo events often — Every successful ebike retailer will tell you, you must get prospects on the bikes to get them engaged emotionally, and consequently appeal to their rational left-brain sensibilities when explaining the financial benefits of ebike commuting. They must go together —  the head and heart — when making an important purchase decision.

5. Give stuff away — I’ve never met a successful dealer who wasn’t willing to wiggle at least a tad on either pricing or accessories. It’s just part of the “art of the deal.” Everyone needs to know they got a great deal on a big purchase, especially when plunking down $2k on an ebike when the similar-looking non-electric slow-mo bike next to it is priced at $500. Prospects need to feel the rush, the fun of a demo ride, then pencil out the savings over a one or two year period, which then becomes a no-brainer.

6. Charge $125 per hour for service — My friend Mike Wolfe runs one of the largest ebike dealerships on the East coast. He charges service and maintenance fees similar to cars and motorcycles. Why? Because an ebike, once it’s properly integrated into a person’s lifestyle, becomes a car. And motorcycle.

7. Always upsell — It’s not about how much you can add to your average monthly ticket or boost of incremental sales. It’s about providing safety, utility and style solutions for the rider that could be worth another $300 in gross revenue per unit sold. Always think of the win for the customer, though, before your own financial gain.

8. Make customers for life — Do you know how much each new customer is worth to you? If you are thinking transactionally you’re probably thinking $1,000. The truth is that each customer could be worth $10,000 at a minimum in net revenue. Why? Because if you treat them with respect and dignity they will buy again…and again…for themselves, their family and friends. And they’ll send you referrals.

9. Have fun — No one knows more about how to make ebikes fun than Don DiConstanzo. As he constantly proclaims (like he did with me back at Interbike when we shared the podium together), “At Pedego we sell fun!” Maybe that philosophy is part of the reason Pedego is the # 1 electric bike brand in America.

10. Become a Pedego dealer —  By the way, if you aren’t an IBD but have toyed with the notion of opening your own ebike shop with a modest franchise investment, call Don. If you’re in a good local market and you’ve got a sensible head for business, hanging a bright neon Pedego sign in your shop window may be your quickest way to fulfilling that dream of yours, of owning your own lucrative business.

As most of us old-timers in the ebike business will attest, the US has for over a decade been woefully behind the Europeans and Asians in electric bike adoption. But as Ed Benjamin has so often stated — with fierce conviction (and data to back it up) — “In the past few years many dealers have finally discovered they can make good money on ebikes. And what manufacturers, distributors, dealers and their staff tell me is simple: “Our future is electric.”

Indeed, we’re now living in the bright, long-promised future for electric bikes.

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SmoothStone Partners is a business development firm that carefully crafts brands in the sports, entertainment and lifestyle space. SmoothStone Entertainment’s Talent Division is led by Phil Herzog who provides marketing and social media support to recording artists, entertainers, fine art and photography talent. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

On Big Game Hunting And Deal Making

Me with young 4 x 4 Rocky Mountain Elk rack bagged near the Cimarron River / Montrose Colorado

In my previous post I told the story of my exploits in the woodlands of upstate New York with my best friend and hunting-fishing-trapping partner Dale. As I explained, he gave me an Encyclopedia Britannica’s worth of outdoor knowledge in my formative years as a woodsman.

Those scouting and hunting expeditions back then gave me the foundation for successful hunts to this day. As such, I’ve made it my mission to keep getting better—better at hunting, studying nuance, body language and the art of closing.

Here are 10 things I apply to nearly every target I’ve studied, stalked and closed–be it fish, foul, man or beast.

  1. Research thoroughly—If you don’t intimately know your target–what’s important to them and how they behave–you’ll never get close enough for a shot, nor even a glimpse.
  2. Be properly armed—Match the right firepower with your target. Too much and you’ll have carnage. Too little and it’ll slip away.
  3. Get comfortable—Whether standing, sitting or stalking make sure you’re physically and mentally comfortable. Pee before you climb a tree. Wear proper clothing. In a boardroom that means dress like your audience, test your presentation technology, practice your pitch, that sort of thing.
  4. Plan your shot in advance—Know where the idea kill zone is. Shoot for the heart. Always. But if there are bean counters in the room go for a head shot.
  5. Plan the second shot –Always be thinking of closing and what happens after the initial close. Think in advance of how your target will react, then be ready for round two.
  6. Don’t call attention to yourself— Stay low and stealthy–whitetail can spot and smell you literally a mile away. So can potential deal-makers who quickly become deal-breakers if you’re annoying or exhibit flashy behavior. For many hunters the North American whitetail is a more prized trophy animal than the majestic Rocky Mountain Elk. Why? Because they’re smarter and sportier. It’s like comparing a salmon to a steelhead. (I’d fish for steelhead any day over salmon for the same reason.)
  7. Be quiet—Everybody talks too much. It applies equally to people in boardrooms and game trails. Silence is golden in most cases. Take your turn to speak—to shoot—only when the time is right.
  8. Watch for movement—Body language of a deer or elk can tell you everything about what it’s going to do. So can the body language of deal-maker in a boardroom.
  9. Choose the ideal shot—Wait for it. I can’t stress this enough. You’ll know when the time is right. When it comes, aim and fire with 100% confidence. With the deal pitch, there’s incredible power in brevity.
  10. Wait–After your kill shot, don’t move. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open and see what happens. Don’t impulsively chase after your game just because they’re suddenly startled or hyper-react. Pause in completely silence, then cautiously backtrack or follow the trail of blood. If necessary, sneak up again and fire for the close.

Of all the misdeeds of the average hunter—or deal-maker—the one most are guilty of is talking too much. It’s the reason I mostly hunt alone. Most guys want to talk and hang out. You don’t do that when you hunt. You hunt in silence when you hunt, at least on the game trail or in the blind. Hold your tongue. Save the chatter for the ride home in the jeep or on horseback.

There’s a saying that goes something like “Even a fool sounds smart when he keeps his mouth shut.” That’s so true–in the woods, boardroom and even the bedroom.

My friend/social media buddy Charlie Peacock, one of Nashville’s most  distinguished singer/songwriter/producer triple-threats, says it so well in his Mississippi Delta root- inspired tune Death Trap >>> https://youtu.be/igrDTWzQb4A. The tune’s takeaway is simple and applies to wherever the winds of promise and opportunity might lead you, personally or professionally:

“If a man can’t hold his tongue…he’ll be walking into a death trap.”

The other ancient saying that relates to this notion of being quiet and measuring your words with the right timing is this: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver”

I know precious little about heaven, almost nothing. But if there are streets of gold is some say, there may also be golden apples hanging from silver trees in the boundless orchards of heaven. That would be a good thing. Because where there are lush apple trees there are usually deer. And where there are deer, and you just happen to be carrying a rifle, then, if you’re a hunting enthusiast like me you’ll know you’re in heaven.

SmoothStone Partners is a business development firm that carefully builds brands in the sports, entertainment and lifestyle space. SmoothStone Entertainment’s Talent Division is led by Phil Herzog who provides marketing and social media support to recording artists, entertainers, fine art and photography talent. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

When Your Inner Voice Says “Let’s Roll”

Miracle surgeries performed aboard the Mercy Ship transform thousands of West Africans

Everyone has “ahh-haa” moments in their career

Those times of profound revelation. Times where you approach that rare intersection of fate and providence, face into the winds of promise, then whisper “I’m taking the narrow road. Heck yeah it’s dangerous but I’ll always have regrets if I don’t try.” That’s happened to me on more than one occasion.

In my early adult years it happened when I pulled myself away from friends and family immediately after college. I said a tearful goodbye to the comfortable yet stagnant pace of Upstate New York’s rust belt and headed West to stake my claim of fame and fortune in the buckle of innovation and creativity–Southern California. After setting down roots in Redondo Beach I never looked back.

A few years later I left a lucrative commercial sales career to serve under the mentorship of Freeman Gosden, Jr and Bob Hemmings, two of modern direct market’s most accomplished pioneers. My curious intuition told me direct mail would soon become the forerunner of digital interactive marketing. My hunch paid off.

My biggest headfirst dive into the dark unknown, however, was enlisting in the service of Mercy Ships, the faith-based fleet of hospital ships that is redefining volunteerism and the modern short-term missions movement on a global scale.

Working with children in a remote village outside Dakkar, Senegal.

At the time it seemed like a mistake. During most of my eight years with Mercy Ships my family and professional friends kept bashing me with words like…“That’s just a dumb idea. Why would you ditch a promising career path to work for free for a religious order?”

What they didn’t know (nor did I at the time) was that there’s no such thing as a “promising” career path. I learned–and keep learning–that weird stuff happens to you. And by you. Neither did they understand I never worked a day of those eight years for free. What I got in return for my service was international travel and a million dollar education in global fundraising and public relations of the highest order–worth more than an MBA at Cornell and an unlimited travel pass at ClubMed. And a cool extended family on every continent.

Yes I was a volunteer. Yes our income was often cobbled together–month to month…hand to mouth–by sacrificial donations from friends, family, churches and businesses. But I discovered almost daily that you can never out-give the God who put you on this earth. That’s certainly been my story.

Fundraising in port cities around the nation with Mercy Ships founder and CEO Don Stephens

After helping to build a global fundraising, public relations and recruiting infrastructure (much of it still remains) I made yet another big move. This time heeding the call of the wild to one of the most ruggedly beautiful, pristine corners of the globe–the North Kitsap Peninsula, west of Seattle’s Puget Sound.

Ironically, I’ve discovered my eight years with Mercy Ships were not the end of my missionary exploits. Rather, that season of life was preparation for an equally important and altruistic mission: helping businesses protect their most important assets with robust commercial security services (my day job with ADT Commercial Division); and, helping sports and entertainment professionals prosper through innovative, cost-effective marketing strategies that bond their brands to customers and fans for life.

We all have stories of standing at a crossroads. More will confront us in the future. Will we ignore that still, small inner voice that says “This is the way, it’s hard and risky but you can’t afford not to try it?”

Before you answer, consider the mountain of data collected from interviews with senior citizens who were asked “What would you do differently if you could live your life over?” Nearly all of them said the same thing. “I would take more risks.”

So, the question…Are you approaching a crossroads?

Here are a few things I’ve learned from some of the seismic changes I’ve made in my life, and particularly my career.

  1. Listen to that inner voice. You won’t hear it very well if you don’t pay attention to its soft whisper. Get away for a half-day, frequently if necessary. By yourself. Take a few pieces of paper or notebook and a pen, get into a comfortable quiet place and listen patiently. Pray. Listen to music. Then start taking notes. Do whatever will surface your subtle inclinations from deep within.
  2. Talk to trusted peers. Share your hopes and dreams with them, but only those people you can trust to support and love you unconditionally–and give you tough love in return if your ideas are too off the wall.
  3. Do the research. Get busy learning about the opportunity that awaits. Keep in mind we’re talking mostly about career changes here, but it can also apply to hobbies, volunteer work, a sabbatical, travel, etc.
  4. Get your affairs in order. That especially includes your finances. Far too many folks approach big life changes without the financial resources to carry them through the transition period. On the other hand, financial shortages can often be the very catalyst to get you in motion.
  5. Think long-term. Remember that life is an unending journey. Over a lifetime of risky career experiments I’ve learned that there are no mistakes if you follow the voice and will of God. In the same way I’ve learned you can never out-give God, I’ve also learned that all things work together for good if you love your Creator and are trying to follow the path carefully set before you.
  6. Enjoy the ride. When you jump into the deep, fast moving current of opportunity, savor the exhilarating experience of trusting your faith when conventional wisdom runs counter. It won’t always be a smooth ride–sometime it’ll be anything but. But in the end you can look back and say “I did it.”

Phil Herzog is a senior consultant for ADT’s Commercial Division and moonlights as a sports and entertainment marketing executive as CEO of SmoothStone Partners.com. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

Why Don’t Men Suit Up?

I’ve lived in all four corners of the nation–New York, Miami, LA, Dallas, and now Seattle. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the advertising agency world, then a few years as a missionary for global charity Mercy Ships. Then back to commercial sales where I’ve landed once again. With all the traveling, meetings, conventions and business lunches and parties I’ve seen a lot.

After 30 years in business one of the things that still perplexes me terribly is the notion that most men just don’t care how they dress for business. Most men just don’t care what they look like at the office, job site or even at a client’s business–and rather focus on perfecting their technical skills and head game. But in the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I say “Big Mistake.”

I’ve lived in Seattle since 2001. I’m in the security business by day, but occasionally I keep my side hustle afloat in the entertainment space working with sports and entertainment clients. Let’s just say it keeps my day job fresh.

I still keep a shared-space office at the Pioneer Collective at King and First which to me is worth a million dollars. Why? Because it gets — and keeps — me close to the culture, to the Seattle arts and entertainment and business scene. And it keeps my eyes on the fashion scene (what little there is in Seattle as compared to New York).

Here’s the simple truth about Seattle men’s fashion. It exists, yes. But it’s got its roots in the tech world–t-shirts, jeans and black square-toed shoes. As such, these guys are seldom taken seriously when venturing out into the big venture capital world, or consumer brand marketing space, or sports marketing or PR or whatever. The simple truth is that sloppy-dressed guys miss out on big deal-making, favors and even attention and respect by their peers simply because their self-image projects, well, a poor self image. Or worse, an “I don’t care how I look” image.

I love watches. Mostly because they are one of the few pieces of jewelry that makes me feel comfortable and “myself” in various settings (plus I’m always trying to keep track of my time). I have four of them, three pictured above–each with a different mission. One tells time in a business setting; one tells time in the woods; one tells time at dates or parties; one is a secret weapon.

I could write a book on how Seattle men could up their game with an ever-so-slightly elevated fashion sensibility. But I’ll save that for another post.

For now, if you’re a guy — for starters — go out and buy yourself a “fashion” watch and be amazed how that outer statement changes your inner vibe. If you’re a woman looking for the ultimate Valentine’s gift for your honey, go out and buy him a stainless steel watch or even a Timex Expedition (if you spend more than $50 for any watch it’s too much…guys lose and break stuff). It will make you one lucky girl. And if you buy him a Rolex (get a fake one online from Japan for less than $100 that keeps better time than the real McKoy) I guarantee you’ll get very lucky with your man on February 14.

Phil Herzog is a senior consultant for ADT’s ICI Division and moonlights as a sports and entertainment marketing executive as CEO of SmoothStone Partners.com. Reach him at phil.herzog@smoothstonepartners.com.

 

How We Won The Olympics

Part 4 in the series “Pitching To Win…Without Pitching”

If Seattle’s decade of the dotcom gave us anything, it was breathtaking innovation followed closely by mountains of investment capital. Or the other way around. This became more obvious each day in my tip-of-the-spear New Business Director role at Horton Lantz & Low in the early 2000s. It seemed that, almost overnight, the entire marketing landscape started shifting at warp speed. Every hungry business now wanted a fancy website adorned with 1-click storefront technologies, pop-up windows and clever meta-tags tied to search engine optimization strategies. Suddenly the fabled “big idea” pushed by ad agencies and eye-popping graphics of branding firms were being kicked to the curb. Marketing innovation harnessed by digital technologies became the bright new currency of brand managers of consumer products–and data-driven lead generation campaigns for B2B clients–across the Northwest and the nation.

As fate or good fortune would have it, I left Horton Lantz & Low  with a mix of optimism and dread. I was determined to ply the new waters of digital marketing. But the currents seemed deep, dark and a bit deadly. I dove in anyway. Over a period of several months I became an expert digital marketing strategist (albeit self-appointed). I read volumes on a multitude of topics from every digital marketing web portal and e-newsletter my eyeballs could land on. But the ones that caught most of my attention were Click-Z and MecLabs, two daily e-newsletters that, though light on creative ideas, were heavy on data and analytics-driven content I was looking for.

While doing my industry due-diligence two topics rose to the surface that gave me pause, telling me these were worthy of my full attention. Three actually, though they are intricately interwoven—multi-variate testing, landing pages and keyword search.

Providentially while doing this research I discovered a quiet but potent Seattle digital marketing agency specializing in app development, web design and back-end data analytics—Peak Systems (subsequently renamed UpTop Corp (www.uptopcorp.com). I was mostly drawn to the company by their roster of super cool clients like Warren Miller Ski Films and the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. But what was most exciting was a) they were looking for a New Business Director / Chief Marketing Officer and b) their CEO lived on Bainbridge Island, which meant we were fellow ferry boat commuters to downtown Seattle.

After making contact with John Sloat (the CEO) which led to an engaging lunch interview, I was hired. John gave me one specific assignment: to help UpTop win the RealNetworks account. More specifically, win a never-done-before project to acquire new subscribers for RealNetworks’ new streaming music service, Rhapsody. For me it was a perfect storm opportunity to apply my love for music with my passion for digital marketing, sales and analytics.

What ultimately won me an open-ended Rhapsody marketing assignment and subsequent full-time job offer as UpTop’s CMO was the surprising initial success of the project. Admittedly, that success had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the dream-team to whom I handed off most of the heavy lifting—my boss John (and the UpTop developers); Scott Fasser, the project manager; Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody Division VP; and last but not least Scott Simonelli, Optimost’s VP of Sales (who was the primary architect of the multi-variate testing platform that pioneered a systematic way to test offers, images, colors and headlines to ensure the optimal combination of creative messaging on landing pages were tied to the most popular keyword searches at the time, such as streaming music, Coldplay, free digital music, jazz, etc).

The Rhapsody music project was a watershed moment for me. Not only did I get a primer in back-end data analytics but it earned me more time and opportunity with UpTop to wield the most powerful weapon in their (or any agency’s) arsenal—its client portfolio. I knew the impressive website and app develop work they’d done for Warren Miller Ski Films–and more importantly, the Salt Lake Winter Olympics—would be my calling card to bigger and more lucrative new business. Providentially, this meant chasing after the biggest event within 200 miles of Seattle in the past decade—the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Though I only realized it in hindsight, the Rhapsody project taught me the incalculable value of trusted partnerships that fostered collaboration leading to breakthrough results. This was the big take-away for me, the one I determined to apply to the Vancouver Winter Olympics account–to win it for UpTop. What I learned then about innovation in digital marketing–and am still learning–is that true digital creativity happens most efficiently and sustainably when you saddle up with people who have already blazed technology trails with proven success. In Rhapsody’s case  our dream-team members were Scott Fasser, a seasoned search engine marketer; Scott Simonelli, one of the nation’s pioneers in multi-variate landing page testing; and my company, UpTop, a back-end application development firm that could slice up a page and code it with an infinite array of message and image options. And of course Tom Kelly, RealNetworks’ VP of Rhapsody Music, the master conductor of the project.

If there’s a main reason I’ve enjoyed success as a business development specialist, it’s that I read a lot…perhaps more than most of my friendly competitors, if not all of them. As a daily habit I scan trade periodicals, websites and e-newsletters featuring business trends and industry news. This morning ritual has yielded a treasure trove of leads over the years. And on that fortuitous morning when I read a small piece in the business section of a British Columbia Newspaper on the upcoming Winter Olympics I knew I’d hit the mother lode. I discovered that in preparation for the 2010 Winter Games the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee (VANOC) had just been assembled. The article went on to say the committee was in its infancy but would soon be recruiting staff and vendors to help facilitate the logistics of the Games. To me that meant one thing: my company, UpTop, needed to be THE tech firm that brought the logistics together with one massive database solution—our specialty. It’s what we’d done for the Salt Lake 2002 Games years before. So in my mind it was our business to lose. How could we not chase after this with abandon and transfer our database solutions from one Olympic Games to the next? It seemed like a walk in the park.

From that moment on I began the chase. The most important step in this Approach Stage, as I’ve mentioned earlier, was gathering  as much insider information as possible. This meant finding someone within the VANOC organization who could give us a competitive advantage to learn what the SWOT profile was (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and where we could swiftly move in– quietly without any competitors around–to build relationships from within, along with the critical information we needed to present the best solution to our prospect.

As more good fortune unfolded, my first phone call to Canada connected me with the new office manager in Vancouver who had just been awarded the 4-year contract role to manage all administrative aspects of the Games. This included hiring an army of volunteers and paid staff to coordinate traffic, transportation, Olympic village accommodations, security and a million other details. The blessing for me was that she was not only incredibly capable and informative, but extremely warm. We made friends quickly, and over the ensuing dozens of phone calls and emails we established a mutual trust that paid rich dividends. One of the pay-offs was learning that Canadian companies—transportation companies, foodservice providers, construction firms and the like—would be given strong preferential treatment when it came to awarding contracts to bring the Olympics to Vancouver, Canada.

So again I went to digging…this time to explore suitable a British Columbia software development company with whom we could saddle up and fill in the technology expertise we lacked to build a gargantuan database to manage the logistics of the Games—and more importantly, give us the advantage over any and all competitors who wanted a stake in the software infrastructure to organize the Games and the resources to pull them off.

I was thrilled when my research pointed to a small software development firm headquartered in Victoria, BC that had just the chops we needed. They had an impressive portfolio and list of clients, and their leadership team was quite affable and open-handed. Between the many conference calls and trips from Seattle to their Victoria offices we forged a strong, trusting partnership. And in a matter of months…well, the rest became history.

In keeping with this series of Winning Without Pitching, I can’t exactly say we won the business without a few competitors nipping at our heels. In fact, as was my customary way, I sheepishly asked the administrator one day, “Would you mind telling me the names of the other companies in the running for this software development project?” In hindsight I wished I’d never asked. The moment my administrator-turned-new-best-friend mentioned the names of two global technology companies  we were contending with–IBM and Fujitzu Business Solutions—you could hear my bubble of optimism pop like a bomb, then a slow fizzling sound as our “we got this” positivity became a vanishing vapor.

Though chasing projects on the scale of the Olympic Games–with the odds in your favor (including the best team and the best solution) hardly guarantees a win–in this case, shockingly, it did for our UpTop team. We won the business. And we learned later we won handily, with subsequent fees generating well over a million dollars for the agency. I guess that’s why the company was aptly named UpTop.

For me personally, the learnings of the Olympic Games pursuit–and the RealNetworks win–were vast. But to strip it down, here are a few simple take-away points you may be able to apply to your own hunt the next time you see a big piece of new business in your cross-hairs…

  1. Apply successful, relevant experience—In my experience, prospective clients have a difficult time imagining success with your firm if you haven’t shown solid marketing case studies and a portfolio that validates your expertise. No client wants to be a guinea pig.
  2. Be a relentless researcher—Make research a daily habit. In the above illustration I talked about how my research led to landing a big project, then a big job offer. It led me to discover Optimost that was the partner I presented to our client as the best technology partner for testing. We got in on the ground floor of the Olympic Games before any competitor knew about it, and we found the perfect partner to give us the local competitive advantage to help break parity with our rivals.
  3. Speed—In business development, speed is critical. Everyone pays attention when you’re fast with solutions and clear in your communication. It raises the bar for everyone to do their best and keep things moving quickly and efficiently. It’s called professionalism.
  4. Partnerships—You know the saying made famous by Aristotle… “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That especially applies to team members with expertise far beyond your own capabilities. That goes back to speed and efficiency and professionalism, which is what clients are buying.
  5. Collaboration—When smart and experienced people band together amazing things happen. Ideas from one category or discipline can be cross-pollinated with others from different team members. The result is what everyone should be shooting for…genuine innovation through synergy.
  6. Likability—Very little of the above happens when pitch or implementation teams don’t get along. Common courtesies foster trust and respect. When people are liked and appreciated they do their best work. It’s where the Golden Rule applies in spades.

These tips and tactics may seem rudimentary to most. But it’s taken me two decades to live these principles out with any consistency. If you’ll take these concepts to heart perhaps you can hasten your personal learning cycle and win your pitch–with or without pitching—almost every time.

Winning The Pitch…Without Pitching

Part 1–Introduction

At the height of the frantic, money-grubbing dotcom era, Seattle’s business landscape was littered with tech start-ups and fat digital marketing budgets lining every street from Seattle to Bellevue to Blaine. Venture funding was flowing like freshly corked bottles of Dom Perignon. It was a heavenly moment for entrepreneurs and opportunists. For me and the ad agency pitch teams who chased after them with abandon it was a four star meal ticket to cash in on the region’s new-found prosperity. Or so we all thought.

On January 21, 2001 I uprooted my family from the piney woods of East Texas to stake my claim of fame and fortune in Seattle’s pot of digital marketing gold. I had a heart full of optimism, a head full of modestly successful marketing campaigns and a 20-year resume documenting my experience as the head of business development for Los Angeles and Dallas ad agencies and design firms. I had fire in my belly, fully convinced that hunting for plum new advertising accounts in the emerald green pastures of industry titans like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon meant one thing. Big bucks.

And it was…until it wasn’t.

As many of us painfully discovered–in the irrefutable trends of macro-economics–what goes up must come down. The dotcom go-go era eventually slowed to a trickle, then bottomed out in 2001—not so fortuitously at the same time I left the comforts of East Texas to assume the reigns of new business for Seattle’s Horton-Lantz-Low marketing agency (arguably the largest and most innovative independent agency in Seattle at the time which unofficially merged with Ascentium in 2010).

Despite the downturn, for me it was a time of enormous challenge, growth and modest success. I learned to pitch business from the very best, in a team environment, competing for some of the richest and most storied advertising and design accounts on the planet—Patagonia, Shimano, Princess Cruises, Phillips Electronics, Microsoft, etc.

Though I brought to HL2 a solid background in account strategy and copywriting, I was hired for one reason: to get in front of prospects. And I did so, with dutiful enthusiasm as the sort of “tip of the spear” big game hunter for the firm.

What I learned could fill a book (which may happen one day). But for the purpose of this blog series I’ll lay the foundation for my learnings and pitch strategy by borrowing the simple but profoundly effective proprietary sales process model from my sales mentor and forever friend, the late Roy Chitwood. In his Max Sacks “Track Selling” training program (www.maxsacks.com – I wrote most of the copy and produced the website) Roy defines the track selling process as follows…

Approach  >  Qualification  >  Agreement of Need  > Sell the company  >  Fill the need  >  Act of commitment  >  Cement the sale

With this groundwork of a brief introduction and sales model laid, we’ll talk next week about that critical first step in the sales process that I’ve discovered, time and again, which separates the men from the boys—the Approach Stage.

Check in next week for Be first, be fast, be fabulous—Part 2

(photo credit courtesy of John Hamm, post Mad Men)