Apparently, someone once offered a definition for the split second as “the time between a customer giving the merest hint that they might have a need and the sales person rushing to pitch their solution”.
It’s a common problem, and I must credit Mike Bosworth (author of Solution Selling) for being the first person to have the wit and creativity to so memorably describe the condition as “premature elaboration”.
It’s a starkly suggestive phrase, an unfortunately common ailment, and a terribly ineffective way of selling – particularly in complex B2B sales environments where doing a rushed job of discovery can have all manner of negative consequences for the subsequent sales cycle…
You might have heard the condition referred to as “the itch to pitch”. At one level, you can understand why sales people might be tempted. They might have endured a series of unproductive sales calls or meetings during which their previous prospects didn’t acknowledge any needs or express any interest in solving them.
Now, at last, when the sales person finally feels that they might actually have found a live prospect we can understand how talking about their “solution” (a subject we might hope that they have some familiarity with) or demonstrating their product can act as a release for all that pent-up frustration.
But succumbing to premature elaboration is about the worst thing a sales person could do in response to the prospect’s just-acknowledged need. The potential customer might have identified a need that the sales person believes they have a potential solution to, but they know very little else.
They don’t know the relative importance of the issue. They don’t know whether their prospect regards the issue as urgent, important or something that – although frustrating – they can live with.
They don’t understand the consequences or impact of the problem. They don’t know who else is affected, or how. They don’t know how their prospect might have tried to deal with the problem before, or with what sort of results.
They don’t know what other options their prospect might be considering. They don’t know where their prospect is in their decision journey, what their decision process, criteria or timeframe might look like, or what role their current prime contact might play in it.
They don’t know how this issue relates to their prospect’s current corporate initiatives or their executive level priorities. They don’t know who the other stakeholders might be. They don’t know if and how the project might be funded.
They probably come across to the customer rather like a quack doctor who prescribes two aspirins for a headache without making any attempt to understand what the underlying problem is – leaving a potentially life-threatening condition undiagnosed.
Worst of all, the moment they start down the path of proposing a solution, they make it that much more difficult to reverse the process and fill in all of the many remaining missing blanks in their discovery process.
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but curiosity (and its close friend discovery) is the essential life-force behind every complex sales situation. Sales people need to restrain the temptation to tell their prospective customer what they can do for them until they fully understand (and have preferably influenced) what their prospect believes they need to do.
Let’s not blow our chances by switching into sales mode too early. Let’s invest in discovery. And let’s refuse to give in to the temptation for premature elaboration…