The Willie Sutton Strategy

Willie Sutton robbed banks. He is credited with stealing over $2,000,000. When they asked Willie why he robbed banks, he replied: “Because that’s where the money is.”

There are two groups of people who struggle to recognize the wisdom in Mr. Sutton’s strategy: struggling salespeople and many startups.

Those Who Wish to Make Selling Easy

Struggling salespeople want selling to be easier. They call on the companies that buy a lot of what they sell and benefit the most from doing so. When these companies resist their efforts to meet with them to entertain changing providers, these salespeople look for easier and more receptive targets. Eventually, they find their way down to companies that don’t buy what they sell.

In their minds, these struggling salespeople believe that companies that don’t buy what they sell are virgin territory. They don’t already have a partner, so their are no loyalty issues or switching costs. And, they don’t yet recognize the value of what these salespeople sell. By moving down to non-users, they have swapped the challenge of not being competent enough to execute a competitive displacement for an even greater challenge, the challenge of selling to non-buyers. Sutton would be confused.

Startups That Don’t Start

Many startups make the same mistake. They believe that anyone and everyone can benefit from what they sell. They believe this is true even when their product or service is a solution in search of a problem. Silicon Valley is full of companies that have identified a capability that they believe in so strongly that invest their time, their money, and other people’s money bringing a product to market, only to discover their is no market.

The very best test as to whether or not there is a market for your product is the willingness of people to pay for it. In many cases, people who will pay for a product are harder to come people than people with money to invest in building the product.

The Willie Sutton strategy is to go where the money is. Call on the prospects and clients who spend money trying to achieve what your product, service, or solution can help them achieve. This means you do not call on people who can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t spend money on what you sell.

Your efforts are always better spent improving your skills than trying to make selling easier.

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Filed under: Sales

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