The answer to most sales prospects requests are “yes” or “no.” The answer is almost never “maybe” or “let me check with the development team.” Offering custom solutions to prospects before they buy the “off the shelf” solution typically wastes time and resources and seldom results in revenue maximization. I’ve learned this lesson, but still occasionally fail to follow my own rule because these scenarios appear so enticing on the surface.
Many prospects who ask for custom solutions are not real buyers. Their requests typically take the form of “I love your product, but if you only offered X I could pay you a gazillion dollars in perpetuity.” This immediately is a warning sign, because if the core product was what enticed them to ask for the core product plus X, why wouldn’t they start by buying the core product. Many customers asking for X are not real buyers, who lack purchasing authority. They ask for X to find a way to walk away from buying something they can’t buy by blaming an absence of some theoretical feature.
I often call these “ice cream truck requests,” because they often take the form of feature or enhancement requests that are so unrelated to the core product that they are the equivalent of “can you have an ice cream truck pull up to my house and deliver ice cream.” Ice cream is wonderful and good and everyone wants it but that doesn’t make it a relevant or necessary enhancement or extension of your core product.
And typically small enhancements don’t make the difference to a real buyer. If a real buyer likes you product enough to request customization, they’re a buyer in the absence of that enhancement. Otherwise, they’re not a real buyer.
My father has had prospective buyers of multi-million dollar apartments threaten to walk away from a deal because of an additional $10,000 in closing or alteration costs at the 11th hour. As he reiterated to me just now, if they walk away over 1%, they’re not real buyers. Growing up, I even recall him saying this during the final hour of closing: “If you walk away because the window treatments are not included, you’re not a real buyer.” Someone who walks away because you won’t do an enhancement is not a real buyer.
The reason I began with the importance of asking “yes” or “no” is that I strive to avoid hassling the makers on our team with my managers tasks. My job is to filter all the customer requests so that 90% of them don’t hit product. Of the 10% that do: 5% are bug or tweak requests of paying customers and 5% are full blown market feedback for product change or growth.
Every client request for X results in a minimum of 30 minutes multiplied by each maker involved. So if I ask our head of product if he can do X and he needs to consult with the head of dev, who in turn consults with another team member, we’re looking at 90 minutes of lost making time. Multiply this by the fact that we could be faced with 5 or 6 “X requests” per week and you’re looking at an entire lost day of FTE time.
Even worse, as discussed above, most requesters of X are not real buyers. This results in makers not doing what they want to do and coming to feel, rightly so, that mangers waste their time investigating Xs that never materialize into real revenue.
This is why as a manager, it’s important to be at least modestly technical. MBAs always ask me if they need to learn to code; the answer is they need to be able to roughly estimate how long and complex various production tasks are. When asked for X, I evaluate if it’s quick and simple, and if yes, I agree to do it if the order is of significant value. If in fact the order comes through, I convey to the product team, “we got Spacely Sprockets signed for $100K but need to do X; is that ok?” The other point is that customization takes you away from scale; but most of the Xs I’m talking about are small, and when dealing with the Fortune 500 there are always Xs.
As I mentioned, I know about X but I continue to struggle with it. When asked for X, the revenue seems so close, but X really means it’s further away.