Why it’s time to stop selling ‘solutions’ – and start delivering outcomes

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You see, traditionally minded salespeople typically regard the sale as over when the order is booked. But our customer only regards their buying journey as being complete when they are satisfied that the outcomes they are looking for have been achieved.

Addressing the Challenge of Change

This is, of course, much more important when it comes to new initiatives, and somewhat less important when it comes to simple transactional or repeat purchases. But if their solution involves change, then unless and until that change has been shown to be successful there is always the prospect of failure.

And it’s this fear of failure - the Fear of Messing Up [FOMU] that explains why so many apparently well-qualified and highly motivated opportunities fade away leaving the customer deciding to do nothing and stick with the status quo instead.

That’s why understanding, influencing, and building confidence in outcomes is so important, and why we not only need to sell the benefits of change, but also give our customer the confidence that the change they desire will actually be achieved, and that we be there for them throughout the journey to eliminate any issues that could stand in the way.

Our customers know through often-bitter experience that change can be challenging - it’s why they are so often fearful of it. And it’s why we shouldn’t portray our offering or our approach as a semi-mythical “miracle cure”. We need to communicate honestly and openly that change always brings challenges - and convince our customer that our experience and our attitude will ensure that - with our help - they navigate the inevitable twists and turns successfully.

Understanding Outcomes

At the most basic level, outcomes can be defined as “changes that follow as a result or consequence of an action or situation”. As we’ll see, these outcomes can be positive or negative - and they can (and typically do) operate at both the organisational and personal levels.

Positive outcomes are things that improve on the current situation. They are usually the consequence of a successful change program, and they make those responsible for the decision happy and/or pleased about the choices they make.

Conversely, negative outcomes are things that make the current situation worse. They are usually the consequence of an unsuccessful change program (or no decision at all), and they make those responsible for the decision unhappy and/or angry about the choices they make

When customers are hopeful about the potential consequences of their decisions and their likely outcomes, their decision-making is often initially propelled by their Fear of Missing Out [FOMO], but when the key stakeholders become concerned (as they inevitably do) about the potential consequences of their decisions and their likely outcomes, their decision-making is often restrained by their Fear of Messing Up [FOMU]. 

FOMO and FOMU create tension, and decision making becomes a battle between the positive consequences of making a good decision and the negative consequences of making a bad decision. All the research published on the subject tells us that the customer’s fear of failure is more powerful than their hope of success.

Organizational Outcomes

Organizational outcomes are valuable to the customer’s organization as a whole - or to a significant department or business unit. They are typically related to key corporate priorities or initiatives and/or significant business performance metrics or indicators, and they are important to formally justifying the organization’s decision to change on a logical/rational basis.

These outcomes have a widespread positive impact across the organization as a whole (or a key function or business unit), for example:

  • The organization is recognized as a market leader
  • The organization or business unit reaches its revenue or profit targets
  • The organization exceeds a key performance indicator
  • The organization achieves a key strategic objective
  • The organization or business unit successfully completes a significant transition or transformation

Organizational outcomes are important because if we can show how we contribute to our prospective customer’s organization achieving its strategic priorities, the project - and our approach - is much more likely to be approved

Personal Outcomes

Personal outcomes, on the other hand, are valuable to significant individual members of the stakeholder community. They are typically related to reputation, the scope for promotion/advancement and/or key personal performance metrics or indicators, and they are essential to stakeholders becoming comfortable with a decision to change on an emotional basis.

These outcomes affect specific individual stakeholders, for example:

  • A key stakeholder’s reputation is enhanced
  • A key stakeholder is promoted to a more senior position
  • A key stakeholder achieves their KPIs/performance targets
  • A key stakeholder improves their efficiency/effectiveness
  • A key stakeholder’s sense of self-worth is enhanced
  • A key stakeholder achieves one of their key personal priorities

Personal outcomes are important because if we can show how we can help the key stakeholders achieve their personal goals, they will be much more likely to support both the project and our approach.

Both types of outcome are important

In any complex buying decision, both organizational and personal outcomes are important in securing a decision to change, and a decision to implement our approach to achieving that change. If we only focus on one type of outcome and ignore or undervalue the other, the chances that our prospect will choose another option - or choose to do nothing - are dramatically amplified.

This is why restricting our focus to proving the superiority of our “solution” is such a limiting strategy. We must appeal to both the organization’s goals and those of the key stakeholders. We must convince them that our approach is the one that is most likely to lead to the successful achievement of both their organizational and personal priorities and outcomes.

In these latter stages of their decision making process, we must do everything we can to eliminate their fear of making a bad decision - their Fear Of Messing Up - and convince them that the decision we are asking them to make - at both the organizational and personal levels - is the one that will deliver their best possible results.

And then - most important of all - we must ensure that we deliver on our promises and exceed their expectations. Nothing less will do.

This article was first published on LinkedIn. BTW, I’ll be developing on these themes - and relating them to the importance of storytelling - in a webinar this Thursday 20th April 2023.

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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