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  • Dan Mayer

The Apple or the Lemon?

Updated: Jan 13, 2019



I asked my kids this question when they arrived home from school.  I sat them down and asked them what they value more.  The Apple or the Lemon?  I often play versions of this game to help them understand the value of money.  It also helps me understand how they value stuff.  It's a great exercise to do with your kids.  How many times do you let your kids get the impulse item, eye level across from the check-out counter.  I always say yes.  You can have it.  However, they need to give me the money out of their piggy bank when we get home.  Now before you judge me as a parent, I find that 9 out of 10 times they don't want the item when they have to pay for it. They don't value it as much when it's their money.

So, in this episode of the value game, each kid has $1.51 to spend on pieces of fruit.  I asked them a simple question.  What do they value more, the apple or the lemon.  They both said the apple.  When asked why...they replied it tastes better. "We would never eat a lemon dad." I told them the apple would cost them $1.51. I understand that's expensive for an apple. Did I mention it was organic, from Whole Foods and a honey crisp? I went on to explain they could get 3 lemons for their money vs the 1 apple. I also explained the many benefits of lemons. The powerful antibacterial properties and how lemons are actually the only food in the world that is anionic (good for your health, and provides our cells with energy or something) lemon juice can also help eliminate the occurrence of kidney stones, treat insect stings, be used in cleaning and even freshen your breathe!  For which my 9-year old daughter responds..."Dad that is all great, but I don't have a bee sting, my breathe doesn't stink and what are kidney stones? Can you just sell me the apple." When you keep the conversation of value in the context of eating the fruit, I agree with my kids. I value the apple more too. Their immediate need was the taste of the sweet apple, not all the use cases of the lemon.  My kids didn't get the vision.  I knew if I were to succeed, I needed to get higher in the sales cycle. I needed to get to Mom! I'm kidding.  This game did however remind me of how it feels to be a customer sometimes. Many of us just need the apple, and the sales person wants to sell the lemon.

I'm a firm believer that external factors determine what and when you value something. If my daughter were to get stung by a bee, not only would she buy the lemon over the apple, she would buy it at a premium.  The problem with most sales people is they don't understand the external factors that drive a customer to need or want something.  Three tips on why you should try to sell the apple first...

1. Protect the relationship to sell another day...Often times as sales professionals we want to sell the entire bag on the first sale.  We want to talk about all the use cases our technology stack can solve.  Even if those needs are 1,3 and 5 years out.  I've found the best approach is to understand the external factors that drove the customer to seek you out in the first place. I often like to cut through the discovery and ask what is a 90-day win for you and your company.  Can you solve their immediate problem now. Is this a high personal priority for your customer? The 90-day win approach will help you build trust and allow you to sell another day. Imam Ali once said - "Two things will define you. Your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything" Learn patience.  I know it's hard, especially when you have a monthly or quarterly number.  I also know that a vision when painted to broadly can make a customer feel like you don't hear them.  Don't get me wrong, you need to have a strong POV, but protect the relationship to sell another day.

2. Success comes before Vision both in business and in the dictionary... A question I ask every customer in a 90-day win approach is "how are we going to measure success? If your customer can't track success, they can't see it, and if they can see it, they can't improve upon it.  A crawl, walk, run approach will help you earn trusted advisor status only if you document success a long the way.  This is non-negotiable. If a customer will not engage with you on ROI/Business impact to track success, find another customer that will.  The success criteria is everything if you want to sell the vision one day with your customer. If you help the customer achieve success in their first 90-days, they will open the door to their vision.  They will give you a seat at the table because you earned it!

3. A priority changes overtime...As sales people our most important job in a sales cycle is to identify priority in the engagement.  Many times a customer will say it's not in the budget.  What they are really saying is they have a competing priority. Priority always triumphs over budget.  Why? Because customers will find the budget from other departments if it's a priority!  If you sell what the customer needs now you can build on their success. Once you understand current and long term priorities you then can sell the benefits of the vision. Keep in mind priority changes over time as external factors create them.


In closing, If your building a relationship, sell the apple.  Your customer has an immediate need now. The benefits of the lemon can come later and so will the door to their vision. Do you agree?

A few questions I like to ask when trying to understand my stakeholders priority.

Is this one of the top initiatives at your company. Why? Where does this project rank in terms of your priorities? Do you see this priority changing over time? Why is it important we get started on this date?