Sales excellence – put the horse before the cart


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Major account selling is truly a highly skilled and information-intense profession.

Just like any highly skilled profession one must not only master skills; you must also understand the principles upon which success is built. In major account selling, the most important underlying principle is the following – sell the problem before you sell the solution – the horse must be in front of the cart.

Selling the problem requires that the salesperson help the customer understand the entire scope and scale of the problem.  If you do not achieve that objective before you design and position a solution, whatever you propose will either cost too much or achieve to little.

The difficulty lies in the fact that the problems customers are looking to solve are extremely complex – different customer players have differing perceptions of the problem; problems are multi-dimensional; the totality of the financial, technical and operational implications are difficult to assess, and the consequences of inaction are subtle but significant.

Failing to identify and develop a shared vision of the complexity of problem can lead to losing the business either due to the fact the customer does not recognize the total value of solving it or because you have proposed an inadequate solution.  Here it is important to recognize that most customer do not have a complete and comprehensive understanding of the implications of the problem or the consequences of inaction.  The salesperson must have the relationship and skills to help the customer develop that insight – this requires being perceived as a trusted advisor not just a product facilitator.

The simple proposition of selling the problem before selling the solution is the cornerstone for success in major account selling.  Three steps can get one going in the right direction.

  • Understand the business context.  The first step is to understand the problem in the first place. It’s difficult to do if you don’t have a working background of the customer’s industry and company and recognize how this background can shape the nature and urgency of the problem.  For example, has the company been around for awhile and they are looking to reinvent themselves or are they a startup that is growing exponentially and looking to go public in a year? The same problems in these two business scenarios have different implications and consequences.
  • Stop jumping in too soon and talking too much.  When this happens you not only fail to sell the urgency of the problem, you present a solution that is an inadequate because you have an incomplete picture of the problem.  You simply miss the mark and thereafter are in a backtracking mode with the customer.  Answer – ask, listen, then talk.  Most salespeople would be better off if they did more of the first two and less of the third.
  • Develop of shared vision of the consequences of inaction.   It is always a good idea to remember that in major accounts two sales are going on simultaneously.  One sale is about whether you can persuade the customer that you are better then your competition.  The second sale is about the customer arriving at the conclusion that the problem is worth solving.  If the customer decides it isn’t, then you lose the sale to – no decision.

This second sale is why it is so important to sell the problem first.  One big step in that direction is to help the customer see the consequences of inaction. When you are dealing with very complex problems in dynamic business environments, it is the rare customer that has a comprehensive and quantified sense of the consequences of retaining the status quo. This is a big deal and the lack of doing it is often why big deals are lost.

To learn more about major account selling, click here to download our free ebook and mobile app: Mastering Major Account Selling.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


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