Selling to TINO? Been There. Done That. Lost the Deal.


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You just started your sales call with an important prospect, and there’s so much tension in the room you could cut it with a machete. The meeting starts calmly, but rancor quickly invades the dialog. Faces redden, voices rise, people interrupt one another. Finally, ignition. The VP of Marketing stands up and shouts across the table to his boss, “If you can’t get this right, you’re not worth [expletive] as president of this company!”

I think I left my ball-point pen in my car. While I head out to get it, why don’t you meet me in the lobby.

Still with me? Good. Between us, what’s the likelihood that this opportunity will close? Oh, before you answer, I should tell you that this prospect passed BANT (Budget/Authority/Need/Timeframe) with flying colors. Still don’t have enough information? I’ll add one more detail. The executive team is totally dysfunctional. A TINO—Team in Name Only—a term I first discovered in an article by Harvard University Professor of Organizational Psychology J. Richard Hackman. Maybe there’s a better question. If this prospect does buy from you, how long will it take you to rue the day?

Teams coalesce around many needs, from project implementation to innovation to procurement to product development to marketing and sales. Business development executives often assume teams are harmonious and goal-directed, like a corporate phalanx in the battle for market supremacy. Efficient, and ruthlessly effective. But if you’ve worked with TINO‘s, you know they will stretch your sales cycles from now to forever, and beyond. They will sap your time and energy. They will chew you up and spit you out. Sometimes, you won’t even be aware until it’s too late.

So why, oh why, do salespeople choose to ignore toxicity when they see it? “Hey! For our executive presentation, we’ll have everyone on the buying team in the same room!” Great! After you’re finished prying their fingers from each other’s throats, you can help them with goal alignment. Sure, TINO‘s occasionally buy stuff. But it’s never pretty.

How can you smoke out a TINO? Ask the following:

1. Has the team been given a goal or task that is useful and valued? Hard to know, until you ask. And ask. And ask.

2. How many people are on the team? More can be less. According to Hackman, six-person teams work well. Beyond that, well, start counting connections, and figure out how many emails, meetings, and phone calls could be required to make decisions, let alone synchronize calendars. With six people on the team, there are fifteen connections. Adding Tomas and Akash to that group nearly doubles the connection count, to twenty-eight. (For a real-world example of what happens when a team gets overloaded, please see Is Collaboration Overrated?)

3. How long has the team worked together? Teams that have completed projects together are generally more stable and less risky than those that are an assemblage of new members who have never worked together before.

4. Are team members drawn from different departments? Today, outcomes from corporate initiatives are rarely confined to a single part of an organization. So if you hear “We’re keeping the talent acquisition project within HR for right now,” should you run? Not necessarily, but the project could be killed when others weigh in. “. . . Nobody asked our opinion when they recommended the software. We think we need to go a different route . . .”

5. How constrained are the team’s goals or methods? Goal constraints can be positive for teams. So can method constraints. But morale and outcomes suffer when management dictates both. Being told “here’s what you’re required to achieve,” and “here’s how you’re required to go about it” doesn’t make for a happy team.

6. Does the team have an enabling structure within the organization? It can be fun to watch three-year-olds playing on a soccer field. But it’s not fun to watch equally unfocused thirty-year-olds tackle a marketing project. Look for a corporate sponsor, team leader, resources, goals, and a strategy for reaching them.

7. Is the ‘no [annoying person] rule’ in place? “Our director insists that Denise makes the decision on this initiative. We just don’t want her involved in any of our meetings.” TINO‘s often have their fair share of Denise‘s.

Budget. Authority. Need. Timeframe. Solution fit. Access to decision makers. Check—times six! With all of that, what could go wrong? Plenty, when you’re selling to a TINO.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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