Top sales people don’t just solve problems – they anticipate them


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The fans of conventional “solution selling” thinking would have you believe that the most effective sales people are problem solvers - and it’s certainly true that problem solving is an important sales skill.

rubiks_cube_150wBut your customers expect more: the research that led to the publication of The Challenger Sale proved conclusively that helping customers to solve problems they were already aware of wasn’t enough.

That’s why the top sales performers in complex B2B sales environments are the ones that enable their customers to anticipate and address potentially business-critical issues that the prospect might not yet even be aware of.

Unless you happen to be a systems integrator that could literally solve any problem the customer throws at you (with a budget to match), this requires a completely different mind set from the traditional “what keeps you awake at night” questioning approach...

Why asking "what keeps you up at night" ought to give you nightmares

In fact, for any sales organisation that is trying to promote a replicable value proposition, asking your prospect “what keeps you up at night” (or any variation on the same theme) is one of the worst possible ways of initiating a discovery conversation.

Here are three reasons why this is such a flawed strategy:..

  • You have no way of influencing what their answer might be - it could be something that has no relevance whatsoever to the problems you are best equipped to solve
  • It does nothing to convey your expertise, or to showcase your accumulated experience of the challenges faced by similar people in similar organisations
  • It would jolly well serve you right if the prospect came up with an equally facile response, and good luck digging yourself out of that self-inflicted situation if they do

Assuming that your organisation’s expertise lies in solving a well-defined set of customer problems better than any other option available to them, you’re far better off with an approach that sounds much more like the following:

“When we work with other [NAME THEIR ROLE] in similar [DESCRIBE THEIR ORGANISATION], they often talk about having to deal with [NAME 2-4 ISSUES YOU ADDRESS REALLY WELL], and I’m curious about how these might be affecting your own organisation?”

A no-lose strategy

This is, from my perspective, a no-lose strategy. If you’ve done your research, and chosen the issues well, at least one of them is likely to be on the prospect’s radar. And even if none of them currently are, you’ve earned the right to ask a supplementary that probes for some of the symptoms that they may be aware of but haven’t yet associated with the issue.

And if all else fails, you can still fall back on a more open question that gives them free rein to describe their most pressing issues - but in most cases, you won’t need to because you’ve already established the agenda, and earned the right to share some insights or explore some implications that the prospect may not be aware of or may not have previously thought about in quite the same way.

Avoiding premature elaboration

And all the while, you’re educating them through the experiences of similar people in similar organisations, rather than pitching your product or prematurely elaborating your “solution”.

This targeted exploration is a key element of the Challenger Selling methodology, and it’s one of the reasons the approach is proving so successful. Your are, effectively, teaching the prospect about an issue that leads them towards recognising the need for change and the superiority of your approach to achieving it.

If - like many of our clients - you have a replicable solution and a reasonably clearly defined target audience (expressed as a combination of organisations and stakeholders) then this directional education approach is far more effective than generic “solution seeking”.

Positioning yourself as a truly trusted adviser

It gives you the opportunity to showcase your unique expertise, and to share the learning you have accumulated from working with people and organisations just like them. Even better, it offers the chance to position yourself right from the start of the conversation as a trusted adviser and not yet another tedious feature-function obsessed salesperson.

If you haven’t yet read The Challenger Sale, I suggest you put it at the top of your must-read list. And if you have, and you’ve bought into the thinking, I'd encourage you to ask yourself: is my sales organisation restricing itself to trying to solve problems the customer is already aware of, or are we genuinely creating lasting value by introducing our prospects to issues or implications they may never have previously considered?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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