Dear Product Manager, here's a possible lesson in business development...

Ope Adeoye 6 minute read

If you are in the kind of industry where you create a product that requires multiple players in your value chain to adopt it at once to be valuable, the business development or sales/convincing process can at times be hard. I had a recent version of this experience and learnt (re-learnt?) a new trick.

We had been hard at work for about 6 months adding our new lending APIs as a value added service layer on the switch. To make it all come together, we had to announce that instant loans can now be accessed on multiple banks' mobile apps through multiple licensed lenders. So, as dev work and business model definition work was going on, we had to recruit a few banks as launch partners.

Therein lay the problem.

As we visited each bank, every one wanted to know which other bank was in already. Wahala. 

The negotiations and "clarification meetings" and back + forth were painful and unending. Yet, no closure. When you think you are almost there, another Oga somewhere would call another meeting to explain to another person who has to get approval from yet another person. And time was going... D-Day was almost here.

So, we devised another approach.

We created a partnership flavour that required less committment (and therefore less approval seeking runarounding) on the part of the bank officials. We simply embedded the service as a feature into one of our products which was already on all their ATMs. Quickteller. Then we wrote a letter to ALL banks at the same time asking them to start by taking the low commitment route and respond to us with confirmation of their interest to play within a time window ahead of the launch date, which was just 3 weeks out. We promised that if they said yes, we can simply upgrade all their ATMs within weeks to the new version. This way, you can borrow money straight from the ATMs without much work or committment on the part of the banks.

We wrote the letter in such a way that they all knew it was written to all 19 banks at the same time. And addressed directly to people we saw as key buying influences.

Then we sat back and let FOMO do it's work.

The calls started rolling in. Those formerly asking plenty plenty questions were now very excited.

Many who were once averse to the high committment partnership model even wanted to move on it immediately. Interesting. What changed?

So, it seems the lesson here was that creating a sense of urgency + sending out a signal that you are talking to all their peers + creating a no-wahala-ask, can combine to help one get a foot in the door faster if you are running a product that's "industry" in nature. 

Rather that beat your head against the wall having multiple meetings trying to sell that 100M pitch, why not create a 5k version first and make available to everyone at the same time, with clear statement that the 100M version is still on the table? Then hope for the best.

All's well that ends well.