Messaging on a Wide Sargasso Sea

In the Age of Discovery, daring navigators led expeditions to the New World, opened up new trade routes with Asia, and even circumnavigated the globe. But wild stories could still spread fear and trepidation among sailors. One such legend concerned the crossing of the Sargasso Sea.


The Sargasso, which is located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, was said to shimmer brilliantly. The proximate cause of this iridescent effect was reflected moonlight on vines of seaweed drifting on the surface. But it was a death trap.

Unable to escape the sea's enveloping tendrils, stranded crewmen would die of thirst or starvation. As the legend suggested, the sea's exquisite beauty would draw you in and never let you go.

In our Age of the Customer, I see a similar temptation. And it's one that can destroy a company. When you gravitate to "shiny objects" and spend your time spinning stories about their immaculate beauty, you are setting the stage for your own demise.

I've seen this pattern many times in my work with technology entrepreneurs, particularly ones with an engineering (or otherwise technical) background. They find beauty in the box or poetry in the code.

They are then astounded to learn that their prospects don't share this same enthusiasm. These prospects are not enthralled with a product and all the cool stuff it can do. They just want to know how it's going to solve a problem or make them more successful. The product itself – the shiny thing (and its shimmering surface) – is merely a means to an end as far as they are concerned.

And then there is the temptation to go deep when someone asks you what you do or how you do it. It's a temptation – Sargasso-like – to get dragged down (or drag someone else down) into the weeds.

This is a killer in terms of customer conversations. Your prospects generally have no interest in getting drawn down into the technical features and functions of your offer, particularly at the early stages of a sales conversation. If they do, you may be spending your time with the wrong person – someone, in other words, who has no decision influence or authority.

You want to avoid the Wide Sargasso Sea. You want to navigate around it.

Instead, stay focused – at least initially – on identifying and clarifying your buyer's problem. Devote two thirds of your initial conversation to concerns, challenges, and issues. Then, you'll be in a position to make the turn and begin discussing the promise of the New World.