A Zebra, explains Jeff Koser on a recent episode of the Predictable Revenue Podcast, is more than a zoo animal. Jeff and his company, Zebrafi, chose this African equine to be their moniker because it’s so easily recognizable that even a child can point it out with no mistake. It’s visible and identifiable. It represents the perfect prospect for your business.
Jeff built his whole business around the idea of the Zebra. How to identify it, validate it, how to build a business case using it, how to sell to it, and how to make sure the business case is achieved once the Zebra has been sold to. He even co-authored the award-winning book on it: Selling to Zebras: How to Close 90% of the Business your Pursue Faster, More Easily, and More Profitably.
The Zebra is the foundation for everything else. Marketing, business development, customer success all rely on your company having an in-depth understanding of your Zebra. We asked Jeff how to find ours.
THAT’S NOT A ZEBRA, THAT’S A HORSE
So many tech companies don’t find their perfect prospect, Jeff maintains, because they start in the wrong place. Especially in the case of startups or companies with new products/features, founders and leaders are so proud of and excited about what they’ve created that they want to lead with that. They fall into the trap of thinking product-first.
The problem with that is, to put it bluntly, prospects don’t care. They’re business executives and they want to buy something that solves business problems, not some laundry list of capabilities your product has. They don’t want to hear about the complicated technology you’ve built, they want to know what economic value or opportunity you can provide them.
If you’re starting with your product instead of the problems you can solve, you’ll end up trying to (and sometimes managing to) sell to the wrong customers. That’s a drain on your sales reps, sales management, sales operations, and sales enablement.
And closing the wrong customers can be a real headache for customer success, account management, and your reputation as a company or brand. Instead, interview your customers to find out why they bought from you – what problems they had that you solved – and start there.
DEFINE YOUR ZEBRA
Jeff breaks the Zebra down into 7 attributes: Company, Operations, Power, Funding, Value, Technology, and Service. Let’s break it down.
- You’re not just looking for demographics here, but the culture of the companies you want to work with. What type of companies do you work with best? Where do you do well? What type of culture aligns best with what you do?
- Here, you’re looking at this company to make sure they have the types of business problems that you solve.
These first 2 attributes are in strategic order and, when defining your Zebra for the first time, you need to make sure you have these 2 absolutely spot-on before you even try to move forward.
- This is the title you’re going to go after your decision-maker.
- Your Zebra needs to have the right payment or budget expectations when it comes to solving this issue or creating this value.
- You need to be able to create an airtight business case for your Zebra and demonstrate what value, opportunity, ROI you can provide.
- Your technology has to provide business case/value even to a non-technical, non-software-focused decision-maker.
- What level of service do you have to provide to deliver on the value you’ve positioned and that your customer will expect?
EXAMPLE: Tubular Labs
“Tubular Labs is the leading global video measurement and analytics platform that empowers the world to create, transact, and monetize with confidence in the age of video” (LinkedIn). In layman’s terms, they have tech that evaluates all the videos on the web, their target audiences and creators, who they appeal to, and how they’re trending. They are also a longtime client of Zebrafi. Let’s walk through the 7 attributes of their Zebra.
COMPANY: Tubular’s target companies have digital analysts in-house that pull video insights manually and spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to best spend advertising dollars. Culturally, these companies want to know where they stack up against their competitors and spend time-solving this problem daily.
OPERATIONS: Tubular’s Zebra loves to be a disruptor rather than be disrupted. They are digitally innovative, progressive, adaptive, and either early adopters or early majority when it comes to implementing new technologies and solutions.
POWER: For Tubular, this is typically someone who owns the digital marketing side of the business (ie Chief Digital Officer, CMO).
FUNDING: This will vary depending on whether the target company is looking to get into digital for the first time, is already a digital-first company or is a brand looking to expand video as part of their digital marketing strategy. But Tubular knows what cost is associated with each of their solutions, and they build a strong business case depending.
VALUE: This part takes some digging. Tubular will ask their prospect: “Do you want to monetize your digital audience? How is that measured/quantified? What is your cost per digital analyst? How many do you have? How many hours do they spend manually solving this problem per day?” From there, they can conclude the top-line value, bottom-line cost reduction, and increased productivity they can create for this customer.
TECHNOLOGY: Included in Tubular’s list of features is the leaderboard they create to show video’s in their target company’s genre and where they stack up vs their competition. This step is where they need to be culturally aligned with the customer, and to be clear on the problems that they are solving rather than focusing on features – so that even the least technical decision-maker sees the value.
SERVICE: The data is already in Tubular’s platform on day one of their engagement with a customer. Everything they need to drive insights is already waiting for them. But, they need to know how to ask the right questions and dig in the right places to get the data that will really help them move the needle on their business issues. Tubular coaches their customers through that process so that they can gain as much value from the platform as possible.
Most of us in the sales, marketing, and business development worlds are familiar with lead scoring. But fewer of us have a foolproof system for opportunity scoring. Jeff uses his 7 attributes to score an opportunity. Each attribute is given a numerical score of 0-4, and that score is associated with a color: 0 and 1 being red, 2 being yellow, and 3 and 4 being green.
Since you’ve already defined your Zebra and will be looking for companies that fit those criteria, when you start with a brand new opportunity in the pipeline the first 2 attributes, Company and Operations, should already be green.
Before you attempt to score the final 4 attributes, you’ll need to make sure Power is green. A lot of deals stall here because a sales rep doesn’t have the tools to get to power, hasn’t properly identified who power is, and/or doesn’t work hard enough to learn who power is before trying to engage.
Once you’ve confirmed Power, you can move ahead to the remaining attributes. These will stay a mix of red, yellow, and green until you’ve satisfied the details on each one with the buyer.
At any point in this process, you can add up your scores for each attribute and see your total opportunity score. If that is between 0 and 16, the opportunity is red. Between 17 and 22 it’s yellow. 23 and above, it’s green. Once the deal is in the green, you can forecast that it will close with 90% accuracy.
So, you think you’ve nailed your Zebra? Next, you need to talk to your customers to see if you’re right. Ask them why they came to you, what problem you solved for them. Ask them what they would have done if they hadn’t bought from you. Ask how close to solving this issue they would have been without you. Ask what gave you a competitive advantage over another provider.
You need to make sure that you’re building your Zebra from the customer perspective and the problem perspective, rather than your own company perspective and your product perspective. Start scoring your best deals using the opportunity scoring system and see if they’re green.
Then, continue to iterate, experiment, revisit, and evolve. Jeff says that even the most well-defined Zebra could easily change every 6 months, so stay curious and stay agile.
Everyone knows that the success of an outbound campaign comes down to relevance, and relevance comes down to the right combination of two things: targeting and messaging. So before you can even think about crafting the perfect messaging and launching a campaign, you need to know who your ideal customer is in the first place.
If you’re not trying to sell to the perfect prospect for your business your salespeople are going to be spinning their tires with ineffective outreach, the deals that do make it into the pipeline are going to take way too long to close, and you’re going to create a nightmare for your customer success team when you can’t deliver on the business case you’ve created for this non-Zebra.
So, take Jeff’s advice, and figure out what your Zebra looks like so that when your salespeople go out there they know not to hunt anything but stripes.
More blog posts on honing your ICP:
More info on Zebrafi’s Salesbot for Salesforce that hunts more Zebras for you: Salesbot for Salesforce
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