The institutional "why" vs the individual "why not".jpg

Inexperienced salespersons often fail to understand that the benefits to the company aren’t usually the same as the benefits to those who will buy your services. As a result, they find that many promising sales seem to run out of gas just before the finish line, for reasons that are hard to pin down.

Most of the time, the answer is not only clear, but predictable and, therefore, avoidable.

The institutional "why"

Let’s refer to benefits to the company as the institutional “why.” These are all the objective reasons why your solution or service is great for the company. However, too often we fail to expose individual buyers’ reasons to hold off or hesitate. Let’s call those the individual “why not.”

The institutional “why” cannot overcome the individual “why not.” We must identify the individual “why.”

Let’s say you’re an IP lawyer and you’ve figured out a better, more reliable way for companies to manage their patent portfolio and budget. Right now, companies struggle to reconcile the fact that they’re innovating at a rapid pace, resulting in a steady stream of new inventions each year. Sounds like good news, right?

“Yes, but.” The expense of filing and maintaining the growing number of patents assures that they’re always at their budget limit, and so each year it's a zero-sum game. They must decide which patents to allow to expire, which to support vigorously, and which to let live another year to see if their expected business value materializes.

Your solution gives them reliable, objective data on which to base those decisions, and automatically integrates patent strategy with a budget discipline.

That’s a lot of institutional “why,” isn’t it? So, why haven’t they jumped on this and signed the agreement?

Define "they"

The answer lies in the definition of “they.” Even though we use language that personifies companies (“They’ll see the value.”), a company isn’t “they,” but “it.” “They” is made up of the inventors, managers, and lawyers responsible for managing this asset class within a fixed or declining budget that can’t keep pace with the annual asset growth.

“It” doesn’t make decisions. “They” do. And, because they’re human, they are concerned about more than the corporate impact.

  • Managers among “they” may have experienced the career fallout from previous solutions that didn’t deliver as promised, and they’re understandably gun-shy.
  • Inventors among “they” may see this as just another additional process for them to honor and support, one that diverts time away from creating the next innovation that will boost their careers.
  • Inventors may not trust the fairness of your survival-of-the-fittest solution.
  • In-house lawyers among “they” may perceive this as indicting them for not coming up with the solution.

There are any number of personal reasons -- both professional and emotional -- why this solution isn’t the personal slam dunk that it would seem to be for the company. In law school, you were taught that a forensic investigation should seek to understand motive by asking “Cui bono?” Remember that it means “Who benefits,” not “what benefits?” The company is the “what.” Those with an individual stake in the decision are the “who.” How do they benefit personally? How might they feel threatened personally?

Experienced salespeople know that “yes” comes quickly, whereas “no” usually takes a long time. That’s because “yes” is the result of stakeholders’ clarity about how they’ll be affected personally. “No” takes a long time because lack of clarity causes hesitation and delay.

Invest your effort in helping each decision stakeholder recognize how his or her self-interest aligns with your solution. If you discover that it doesn’t, you must find a way to modify the solution to improve that alignment, or seriously consider disinvesting in this sale.

Mike O’Horo


Only 10-20% of lawyers are serious about learning and improving their business development skills. Unless your firm is an outlier, it has no way to identify those lawyers. As a result, they waste 80% or more of the money they invest in BD training and coaching.

Watch this 30-second video to see an innovative approach that enables lawyers who are serious to identify themselves. If you like the concept, forward the video to your firm’s marketing- or BD leadership.