Selling is not a complex pursuit; if you understand the rules of the game, the rest flows quite naturally. Many sellers either don’t know the rules or chose not to practice them. This causes more harm than good.
I am of course being deliberately antagonistic, but hopefully with good reason. There’s one specific fatal sales behaviour I see repeated time and time again and that is: sellers talking product-solutions too soon, or going straight to company pitch from the get-go. Both amount to the same disappointing outcome and yes – this still happens!
Recently I wrote a post entitled ‘Effective sales calls whilst working remotely’ in which we get back-to- basics by revisiting the foundations of great sales calls in a virtual context. In this post, I extend the theme of effective sales calls by focussing on when we should start discussing products, solutions and services (capabilities) for maximum impact.
The temptation to jump in and discuss your company and capabilities early in a sales call can be strong; it’s what we know, and selling our products is what we are measured on. There’s even more pressure to do so, given the economic uncertainty and the issues we currently face globally. Some companies knee-jerk in the pursuit of revenue and push sellers to talk product in the vague hope something will stick. Yet the experienced sellers amongst us know; no matter how much noise there is around us, you can’t change the rules of the game just because you or your company’s sense of urgency is suddenly amplified. Let’s start with a couple of base assertions:
1. Product selling does not work and is not valid or acceptable in today’s selling world
2. Buyers only buy to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities (business issues)
3. The seller owns how the buyer sees those business issues
If you found that a little confronting – good! Then you need to read on further. How many of your customers wake up in the morning and inexplicably decide to buy your products? I imagine the answer is – none. One of the first rules of selling is; we must understand buyer motivation. Buyers are interested in your capabilities when they believe it solves a business issue, and that business issue is a significant enough priority for them to act.
The balancing act in the buyer’s head looks like a set of scales – as buyers weigh up the implications of acting. In the illustration below; if the scales tip to the right, there will be no action because the cost, time, risk, hassle, disruption of acting is far greater than solving the business issue. If they tip to the left, then the opposite is also true. The task for sellers is to develop the buyer’s awareness of their business issues. Which is where point three comes into play – sellers MUST own the buyer’s awareness of the business issue they can solve.
In some selling situations, buyers will have already acknowledged a business issue and decided it is a priority; that’s why they are talking to you now. But those opportunities are too few and far between for businesses to survive on alone. And so, we sellers need to amplify the buyer’s awareness of their business issues and their impact on their business, to the extent that the buyer is prepared to act.
This is by no means a simple task. Success is predicated on the seller’s ability to engage the buyer in conversations about business issues with a combination of delivering insights and conversational questioning skills. What also contributes to these conversations being successful is researching the buyer and looking for the right opportunity. This usually comes from understanding your customers buying triggers and your prospecting and pre-call research. It may also come from existing connectivity to key people in the client’s business, if the target client is an existing client.
The golden rule is; you never talk about your capabilities until the buyer has agreed there is a business issue (need) and, it is important enough for them to act on.
Still a doubter? Let’s dig deeper. Illustrated right is a typical buying and selling process. If we as seller’s propose a product too soon, i.e. before the buyer has even recognised the problem or the need for change, how much relevance do your capabilities have for them? Further, what impression do we as sellers convey to the buyer? Product pusher, self-interested perhaps? How does that impact our credibility as sellers and our ability to continue accessing the client? If you sighed with acknowledgement, that’s the right response, because we have all been guilty of this at some point in our sales career. If this is a moment of realisation for you GREAT! If you knew this already even better! We must stop talking product and start talking business issues and their impacts.
Investing time to develop and understand the buyer’s perception of their business issues is one of the most high-value sale activities you can engage in. So how do you do that? There is no one single approach, because different buyers respond differently. For instance, some buyers will respond to an insight-led discussion concerning the issue you are looking to solve. For example, a client of mine had several major at-risk opportunities I was privy to in their sales funnel, where they were the incumbent. I was able to offer an insight, which led-to a win-win discussion around shortfalls in their account planning process. Alternatively, some customers respond well to constructive questioning that gets them talking about the business issues and their implications. However you get there may be down to style and what you’ve been taught in the past. The point is, you need to arrive at a sense of mutual agreement where both seller and buyer agree on the following:
1. The buyer’s interpretation of the business issue to be resolved
2. Their understanding of the impact the business issue has on their business
3. Their perception of the value resolving the business issue will have on their business
4. Their sense of timing or urgency about solving the business issue
5. The buyer’s perspective of what a solution may look like
These five points are a minimum requirement before talking capabilities. They are qualifying data points that allow us to move to the next natural part of the conversation. For one client; I asked sellers to send a post call email to every buyer they completed a discovery-investigative call with; with the answers to these five questions in summary, which became a defining success behaviour. It made sellers accountable to the buyer, which encouraged practice of the behaviours that enabled them to play the information back in the summary email. Some sellers as much as quadrupled their close rates for every buyer they were able to send the email too. If you don’t have all five data points; good process discipline means you are still in the discovery-investigative stage – guess what you shouldn’t do? That’s right – talk capabilities.
I also find it useful to categorise meetings into either ‘discovery-investigative’ calls or ‘capability alignment’ calls. In my last post ‘Effective sales calls whilst working remotely’ I refer to these activities as getting information and giving information. Preparation for both different and equally important. It is possible of course both activities could happen in a single call, be prepared but treat them as two separate and distinct calls. My experience is that the amount of time available in a call means that these activities are usually covered separately.
A note to subject matter experts (SMEs). From experience sellers can have a very broad range of understanding of buyer business issues. This impacts how effective you are in your calls. Before you are asked to extol the virtues of your solution suite, ensure the call is qualified with the above 5 points to prevent the call turning into a ‘dog and pony show’. Inculcate these criteria into your selling process to ensure you have a minimum standard of information before you engage in capability alignment.
One last very important point in terms of WHO you should be talking to in your customer’s business. Those that are going to be most interested in your capabilities are those who own the business issue you can solve. These people are best placed to understand the implications of the business issues and the value of solving it. Pay attention to who you are speaking with as some will not have the depth of knowledge of the business issues or be experiencing their implications in their role. Specifically, we are interested to speak with those who:
1. Own the business issue you solve and…
2. Those who can set the buying process in motion and/or can introduce us to the owner of the business issues.
In summary, the ground rules are:
1. Buyers only buy to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities (business issues)
2. The seller owns how the buyer sees those business issues
3. Never talk about your product or solution until your buyer has agreed that they have a business issue (need) and, it is important enough for them to act on.
4. Use the 5-point checklist to prepare and report back before every call
5. Business issues are part of buying motivation; it is their implications that drives action.
Sometimes sellers confuse talking about capabilities as sharing insights – this is not the case unless you have agreed on the 5 points. Amongst other things, sharing insights is helping buyers reframe their business issues such that your solution helps them achieve specific outcomes – important to them. The business issues are then validated against the 5 points that indicate your buyer’s intent to act. Correspondingly, the level of buyer interest in your solution and capabilities is heightened and the impact of your solution and capabilities maximised.
It may take a little time to perfect this and you will miss some points and kick yourself for missing them at times. That’s OK, you must keep practicing and before you know it, obtaining the information you need to help you qualify opportunities and remove some of the uncertainty will come naturally to you. Remember there is no substitute for preparation.
If you found this useful please, like share and comment to help others who could benefit from this guidance. For more information on the context of this post and for further help and support feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or email me on [email protected] We are all in this together, if I can do my part to help you that’s my way of being in service to you and our community. Be well and prosper!!