Beware The VP of Special Projects

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Beware the VP of Special Projects

This is part of a series we’re working on about the need for ongoing customer discovery.

This post is about the land mine that is the VP of Special Projects. It is an especially dangerous threat when targeting larger companies.  

The VP of Special Projects is usually a long-term employee of a large company. They have an impressive title. They are forward-looking and exploring new opportunities/markets/technologies for the company.  They have no operational responsibility. They rarely have staff. They have no budget. They have no decision-making ability. They are enthusiastic. They are easy to talk to. They make themselves available to vendors to learn about new solutions. They think of themselves as being smart, being on the leading edge, but do so by living vicariously through the entrepreneurs they encounter.

They have a soft, fluffy, down-filled, cozy, and comfortable big company paycheck and benefits package. Working with startups is a fun side project for them. They think of themselves as Sarah McLachlan saving abused puppies.  Instead, they are inadvertently draining the very lifeblood out of your company.  

 You will burn precious cycles with them. They are almost always positive conversations, so they feel good. They make you think you are on the right track. You want more insight from them, and the are only too happy to schedule more time for another positive, idea-reinforcing conversation.  

But they are like quicksand. The more you move around with them, the deeper you sink.  

In Customer Discovery

In customer discovery, they will actually exacerbate the negative impact of groupthink. They will match your level of enthusiasm. They will co-envision how your solution could be used in their company and how they will benefit. They won’t challenge your assumptions. In fact, they will strengthen your conviction towards erroneous assumptions. 

If not recognized, and properly discounted, they can become a very influential, yet incorrect voice of the market. 

In a Sales Cycle

If you happen to latch on to one of these people in the context of a sales cycle, it can be equally devastating. Again, the conversations feel very positive. They are happy to spend time with you. They will see the value of your proposed solution. They will echo the benefits of what you are selling back to you. But there always seems to be another conversation and more stakeholders needed. 

The VP of Special Projects seems to always need to pull someone else into the loop. They agree to do so and schedule another call with you. …and then another call. …and then another call.  You are never actually getting closer to making a sale. But all the while, their enthusiasm keeps you engaged, thinking you are only a development sprint or two from revenue.  

How to Survive Them

In addition to the characteristics described above, there are ways to sniff out and minimize their impact.  Keep in mind, that even though the time with the VP of Special Projects feels very positive, it is killing your company. You should be looking for the fast fail so you can move on.

Positive feedback is good, collaboration is good, but ask them to be critical as well:

Why would companies buy this?

Why wouldn’t companies buy this?

Who would be involved in the purchase decision?  

What objections do you think they would have?

How can we overcome those?

Can you introduce me to those people?

Last modified: August 4, 2019

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