Sell the problem first!


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To be a top performer in major account sales, you have to master many core skills and competencies. You must be accomplished with foundational sales skills like: asking questions, active listening, and handling objections, as well as, competencies such as: lead identification, lead qualification, selling value, and building relationships. Plus, you must possess an encyclopedic command of product and customer information.

It is fair to say if you wish to be among the sales elite, you have to know more and know it at a higher level of competency than ever before. 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 also must 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.

In major B2B sales the problems the customer is looking to solve are extremely complex. They are complex for multiple reasons – different customer players have differing perceptions of the problem; problems are multi-dimensional; implications are difficult to assess, and the consequences of inaction are significant.

This means the salesperson must first and foremost focus on understanding the complexity of the problem. The simple proposition is sell the problem before you sell the solution. Three steps can get one going in the right direction.

1. Understand the business context. The first step in selling the problem is to understand it 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.

2. Stop jumping in too soon and talking too much. A second reason for failing to understand the problem is jumping in too soon and talking too much about the solution. When this happens you not only fail to sell the urgency of the problem first, 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 people would be better off if they did more of the first two and less of the third.

3. 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 the other guy. 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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