That was the analogy one senior corporate gave to illustrate the scale of the chasm that innovators have to bridge when knocking on corporate or central government doors.
I regularly talk to senior decision takers and their constant bugbear is that too many suppliers just don't realise the realities that drive business and too many take too little time trying to find out what they are.
Talk the right talk
Corporate board directors live in a world dominated by quarterly financial deliverables with banks and investors constantly breathing down their necks. It is very hard to get them even to put innovation on the agenda - and then it has to be in the very plainest terms and heavily quantified in terms of business.
Innovators, especially those with former corporate experience, may know that they have something of value but their problem, whether they realise it or not, is to translate what they have into tangible business benefit deliverables.
You don't get engagement unless you sort the language first. And innovators rarely see that.
All too often when they do get air time with a corporate decision taker, smaller suppliers blow it, especially those with technical backgrounds. They often don't think of the basics and listen to the customer. They spout off verbal diarrhoea about their product. They forget that decision makers are like anyone else - they like to talk about their problems.
It’s all about soft skills and basic marketing.
An innovation might have any number of unique selling points but it is not job done just telling someone that. However ground-breaking the innovation may be, the decision taker has to be absolutely clear how it translates into personal and corporate business deliverables for their business at that point in time and with maximum risk mitigation.
The way forward
Cold calling, therefore, and especially cold calling a senior decision taker is utterly counter productive. When talking to people at all levels of an organisation suppliers need to thing context oriented not product oriented. They need to build awareness and intuitive understanding of a target customer’s real issues and priorities.
When they do encounter a senior decision taker (and it’s often by happen-chance) they need to be ready and able to put a relevant message across, but in as few words as possible - no more than a snatched elevator conversation.
Innovators, therefore, have to square a number of circles while all the time they are grappling with the day to day complexities of keeping their own business above water. They need to identify the core corporate issues, risk and innovation appetites, and business challenges, and also be able to weight the relative scaling and prioritisations - with extremely limited access to time strapped corporate managers.
Large suppliers realise the importance of building relationships and networking and put infinitely more resource into that than any small company can. But they do have their Achilles Heels.
Too few SMEs spend time networking. But it is only by physically being there in marketplace hubs, such as key conferences, exhibitions, industry groups and seminars, that small companies will pick up on the language, gossip, pain points and opportunities that are out there.
Selling is much more than picking up a phone - it is about building relationships at all levels so that when you do have access to a senior decision taker you can talk to them in the language of business deliverables tailored to their here and now - and not about jam for tomorrow.
* Searching for success: I'm always looking for practical case examples showing how innovative companies have successfully broken through generic barriers into large enterprises or government. Please point me to good examples you know! Thanks!