In a recent article, I warned sales professionals against prescribing a solution before diagnosing the problem. In other words, find out what your prospect needs before pushing your standard products or services. Notice that I said, “what your prospect needs,” and not what your prospect wants. It might seem like a trivial distinction, but it can mean the difference between a successful long-term sales relationship and one that frustrates and fizzles. Simply put, the customer is NOT always right. The customer does NOT always intuitively know and ask for the best solution. Here’s how to use this knowledge to your – and your prospect’s – advantage:
The Road to You-Know-Where Is Paved With Good Intentions
Prospects want to be knowledgeable. They want to make informed choices. And with the enormous volume of free information and analytical tools available on the Internet and through other media, more and more prospects are researching their issues – and the potential solutions to those issues – long before the salesperson enters the picture. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned approach can lead them to prematurely focus on a solution. Where does that leave the salesperson? If you remove the role of trusted advisor, the salesperson becomes nothing more than an order taker for the customer’s pre-ordained solution which, in turn, has become an undervalued commodity.
It’s not that the prospect isn’t intelligent; it’s just that he or she doesn’t make a decision regarding these products and services very often. Sales representatives, on the other hand, continually diagnose customers with similar situations. Thus, just as doctors know to consider – but not be bound by – the self-diagnosing patient’s limited view, the salesperson must assertively take on the role of expert advisor. It is perfectly appropriate for the salesperson to say, “You may be correct about what you are looking for, but let’s find out for sure.”
It’s the challenge of all modern B2B salespeople to dig deeper, to get to the root cause of the prospect’s need for a solution. Let’s expand on that doctor/patient example: while the patient may want only some painkillers to reduce severe knee pain (the symptom), the diligent doctor must discern the root cause: a torn ACL. Obviously, what the patient wants (an end to the pain) and what he needs (surgery to repair the ACL tear) are entirely different solutions. Pain killers may achieve the patient’s short-term goal, but they certainly won’t cure the condition for a long-term positive outcome. I think you can see the connection here between doctor/patient and salesperson/prospect. By digging deeper, the salesperson can more accurately work with the prospect to prescribe the true solution.
When pushing for more information that leads to the right solution, the salesperson might get push-back from the prospect: “I really don’t have time to answer those questions. We simply want someone who can help us institute a new XYZ system. Can you do that?”
That’s where the salesperson must draw the line. The salesperson can either hold firm to an effective solution-discovery process, or drop into presentation mode, wherein the solution gets reduced to a commodity that is subject to competitive (perhaps even cutthroat) pricing.
At this point, the salesperson should explain to the prospect why the process is essential to validate the proposed solution and determine value-added enhancements that should be considered. The salesperson should walk the prospect through the process and show how it will help lead to a high-quality decision. In most cases, the prospect will quickly begin to respect the salesperson’s diagnostic capabilities. Consider again the doctor/patient analogy: When you go in for your annual physical, you expect the doctor to have a process to guide you through decisions and support you during treatment. Your verbal input and physical data are vital to the process, of course, and you will take ownership of the outcome because you controlled the input. In the same way, prospects should be able to trust the logic and credibility of the salesperson’s decision process.
Becoming Valued as an Expert Again
To regain relevance with prospects who have decided they are better off doing their own research and developing their own solutions, we must change their view of what sales is and why salespeople are vital to achieving superior solutions. We must become educators before we become salespeople; and we must use education as the foundation of our sales processes. In doing so, we will create tangible value for the prospect by clearly demonstrating that we can accomplish one or more of the following:
- Produce greater results than they can produce on their own
- Save them more time and/or energy than the cost of our products or services
- Give them more security and safety than they can acquire without us
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that prospect self-diagnosis and solution development will cease anytime soon. So the question for salespeople becomes: “Which do we want to be – advisors who deal with the highly profitable segment of the market that seeks advice and guidance from real experts, or order takers who deal with discount shoppers?” I think the choice should be clear, but the path to regaining respect as trusted solution advisors and providers isn’t always easy. If you need help defining your sales process for maximum marketplace influence and profitability, contact a Sales Xceleration Advisor today.