Moving From The Teaching Pitch To A Collaborative Dialog


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The art of the “pitch” continues to be escalated. The sales person has always had a role of “teaching” or “educating” customers. But what we teach them has and will continue to evolve.

We pitched (too many still do) our products. Customer have never found this to be really valuable. They want the conversations to be focused on them and what they want to achieve. Product pitches were about us and what we had to sell. In the past, product pitches did play a role in educating our customers. Sales people taught customers about our product capabilities and how they would solve their problems. Today, that “teaching” role has largely been replaced by customers self educating through web based resources. Our companies still need to make sure that our products are appropriately represented on the web, but largely the role of sales teaching our customers about products is a non-value add part of the customer engagement process.

We moved to pitching our solutions (sometimes those were/are thinly disguised product pitches). When customers identify problems and sought solutions, this is a very important role for the sales person. We need to teach the customer about how our solutions solve their problems, address their priorities, and meet their needs. By the time customers want to see us and discuss our solutions, they have already done a huge amount of work in defining/scoping the problem, defining their needs, and establishing their priorities. They probably have already done a lot of web based research and self education to narrow the alternatives they want to consider.

The role of the sales person as a teacher of solutions is still very important. It really focuses on what folks in the telecom industry call “the last mile.” Up to this point, the customer has only been able to assess the solution alternatives in general. They need to look at the specifics of the solution in solving “their problems.” The customer may have misunderstandings of the solutions. They may have defined the problem they want to solve inadequately, so the sales person can still influence and shape things somewhat. They still need a lot of help–teaching, addressing the specifics of what they want to achieve, developing the justification, and developing the implementation plan.

Sales people can create great value here, helping develop strong justification, helping reduce risk, helping reduce time to result, and in other areas. However, much of the “work” has been done by the customer and the value the sales person can create is less than that they should or could create.

Customers are looking for insight! They are looking to learn things they had never imagined before and how they can apply them to their businesses. They want to discover new opportunities to grow or improve their business. They want to learn about problems they may have been blind to–and solutions to those problems. As sales people, we can create even more value by teaching our customers (called the Teaching Pitch in the Challenger Sale). Here, we intercept the customer much earlier in the process, before they recognize they might change. The Teaching Pitch still results in the sale of “pre-built solutions, or as one of the companies leveraging Challenger refers to them, “Happy Meals.”

All of these have power. Depending on the situation, sales people might be successful pitching products, solutions, insight. The presumption in each of these is the sales person is more knowledgeable than the customer. We know more about our products than the customer, we know more about our solutions than the customer, we know more about the customer’s business than the customer (Hmmmm……)

I think there is another level of professional selling that offers far more value to the customer. I call it “The Collaborative Dialog.” The difference between teaching and the collaborative dialog is that we leverage on the knowledge, experience, and insight that both sales and the customer can provide. Years ago, there was a term in vogue called “synergy.” It was an MBA term that basically said 2 +2 might equal 5 or more. The concept was that by working together, we could possibly come up with better solutions than by working separately.

In today’s world, we see great examples of this capability in “crowd-sourcing.” Large numbers of people working collaboratively are solving problems that may have been virtually impossible to solve by independent efforts.

Collaboration is a critical aspect of sales. Usually, however, when we think of collaborating, it’s between functions within our organization, or with partners in bringing something new to customers.

Frankly, while we can bring great insight and new ideas to customers, it’s hard for me to understand that we actually know more than our customers about the intricacies of making things happen within their own businesses. Strictly speaking, there’s a little arrogance to that notion and the idea of being sold “Happy Meals,” somehow strikes me as possibly missing the target. The concept of a teaching pitch still strikes me as slightly “one way.”

In the B2B world, our customers are facing very difficult problems. There are rarely simple solutions to the specific problems our customers face. The teaching pitch can be a great starting point in helping the customer recognize there are opportunities to change, to improve, to do things differently. They also provide the customer greater confidence that the sales person has something they can contribute. Perhaps the real opportunity and the greatest value is to establish a collaborative dialog. Perhaps the most opportunity for sales peopl is to be invited into the tent, to put the best minds together–from the customer side and the vendor side, to solve very difficult problems.

The collaborative dialog is very powerful. In previous posts, I’ve spoken about how, at one point in my career, my team approached Boeing with the idea of designing airplanes digitally. We discussed this with executives at Boeing, they liked the ideas, but clearly understood that we didn’t understand how to design airplanes (and we didn’t pretend to have this knowledge). The result, however, was a collaborative dialog, involving many people from Boeing and from my team, together coming up with ideas about digital aircraft design that neither of us could have developed independently. The process of working together, contributing ideas, resulted in a superior solution. The customer believed the value our team brought was critical to their success. Like us, they recognized the real value was in the collaboration.

The other power of the collaborative dialog is the teaching is now bi-directional. Just was we seek to teach the customer, we are also learning from the customer. This enables us to improve–to take these insights and this learning to other customers, further increasing our value and differentiating ourselves from those that only offer a product, a solution to known problems, or insight about opportunities.

Challenger Selling has made some real steps forward in it’s ideas about providing insight to the customer and in its teaching pitch. However, I think this is just the starting point, I think the ultimate goal is the Collaborative Dialog we establish with the customer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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