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Are you wasting your time on winless opportunities? How to avoid the Cannon Fodder Syndrome

- December 23, 2014 - 2 Comments

During military battles, where one side of combatants is severely outnumbered by the other, it’s not uncommon to find a strategy called cannon fodder leveraged by the underdogs. Cannon fodder refers to poorly armed, poorly trained, and ill-equipped soldiers on the front lines who are sent in a charging attack designed to overwhelm defenders with numbers rather than superior strategy. It’s understood that the cannon fodder soldiers will most likely perish in an effort to exhaust the other side’s ammunition and manpower so that underdog’s soldiers at the rear have a chance to win the battle.

In the sales world, we see the cannon fodder scenario happening all the time.  A customer puts a project out to bid in an effort to evaluate different proposals and select the best choice. It’s not uncommon, however, that the customer already knows what solution they are going to select BEFORE the project is put out to bid and is only going through the bid process due to company policy.  This means that you could be spending enormous amounts of time and energy putting together proposals that have no chance of being considered. You are just cannon fodder to the customer – expendable resources that are just going through the motions to appease company management.

So what can you do to avoid the cannon fodder syndrome? There are several counteractions you can take to ensure you don’t become a victim on the front lines.

1. Make sure that your customer is investing the time and resources required to provide the input you need to design an optimal solution. If your customer is reluctant to schedule follow-up calls or meetings during the discovery process, you may be cannon fodder. It’s possible that your customer is extremely busy but it’s more likely that they aren’t being generous with their time because they are spending time with another vendor of choice. Insist that your customers meet with you and your team as much as needed to ensure all necessary requirements are gathered. This is for their benefit. If they can’t make that commitment, walk away.

2. Ask pointed question around their decision making process. How many other vendors are they working with? What number of proposals is required before a decision can be made? Which other vendors are they working with? Do any of those vendors have previous experience with the customer? Who is involved with the decision making process? What additional actions are required before the decision can be made.  You get the idea. Asking these types of questions will typically uncover the real situation and expose the likelihood of becoming cannon fodder.

3. Once you present your proposal, ASK FOR THE BUSINESS. You’d be surprised how many salespeople never actually ask for the sale! Ask the customer if there is any other information they need from you to make a decision. Find out what next steps are required. Most importantly, ask when they will be making a decision and how vendors will be informed. Get permission to follow-up on or shortly after the decision date. This puts you in a better position to stay in the loop and avoid the common hazards of dumping the proposal and hearing nothing but crickets from that day on.

4. Continually hunt for new business with both net new prospects and existing customers. This way you will always have enough opportunites in your pipeline and can feel more confident walking away from risky opportunities. Too many sales people focus on account management only and forget the importance of prospecting. This is a big mistake as relying too heavily on only installed accounts for new business may backfire if those customers fall into decline.

Cisco Partner Plus Partners can leverage leads and target prospects provided as a benefit for being in the program. This creates a pipeline of opportunities with net new prospects that have existing or near term technology or line of business needs. And if a partner leverages Customer Intelligence, another benefit of being in Partner Plus, the chances for success increase substantially.

Bottom line, the likelihood is you will eventually find yourself in a bidding process where you are wasting your time on a pointless opportunity. But if you stay on your toes, ask the right questions, are assertive about asking for the business and keep your pipeline full of prospects, you can minimize the risk of succumbing to the cannon fodder syndrome.

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2 Comments

  1. How can we decide the benefits ? Many of us think that we design an optimal solution. But really, is it so? Another point is existing customer. They will not share their ideas unless they really loves our products. We need to get those ideas for the suitable system. However, we cann not obtain them. How can we get them?

    • Thanks for the questions Tercume. I can understand your quandary. When you are first working with a new customer, you have to earn credibility to get their attention and time. I will go back to the questioning. Being able to ask the right kinds of business questions, and engage the customer, will help earn that attention you need. When the customer feels you truly are concerned for their business, and not just trying to sell your solution, they will make an effort to give you all the information you need. But if you do not ask the "business related questions" that get them talking, if will be difficult to ensure your solution is optimally designed. Make sure you understand your customer's vertical industry, the relative pain points, know their business and be a great listener. You'll get the information you need to make sure you aren't Cannon Fodder.