The second most frequently asked question around here is “How do I compel my prospective clients to change?” Salespeople must demonstrate the need for change, especially when their contacts are not yet compelled to change. While I’ve shared a lot of ideas about compelling change (including a course titled Building Insights) to enable that critical sales outcome, it’s impossible to win new clients without giving them a reason to change their business.
What Have You Discovered?
There is no better way to understand what causes your clients to change than by sitting down with them, asking what they want and what prevents them from getting it, and listening carefully to their responses. You learn more by asking powerful questions and listening than you do by sharing information about your solutions—the solutions can wait until later in the conversation. Even if you don’t have the best set of questions, every viable sales approach must discover why your clients need to change.
Every time you meet with a client, you should take notes that capture what your potential buyers say about their business, what results they are struggling to produce, and why they believe they need to do something different—including choosing a new solution and a new partner to help them improve their outcomes. These notes are invaluable for improving your process and preparing for future meetings. Later on, after you’ve won dozens of clients, you will have the situational knowledge to form a good working theory as to why your prospective clients might need to change.
Along the same lines, the collective (but often uncollected) experience of your entire sales force provides a treasure trove of insights as to why your clients change. Organizing these insights will provide you with the kind of knowledge and understanding you need to develop effective questions and prompts. Remember, your goal in discovery is to help your prospective clients recognize—maybe for the first time—that they should be compelled to make the changes that would provide them with better results.
When You Won, What Problem Did You Solve?
Many business problems or challenges are systemic across companies and industries, so it’s a safe bet that your dream client is experiencing one or more of them. When you sell your solution to a client, you solve one or more of these problems for them. The more universal the problem, the more certain you can be that it exists inside your prospective client’s business—even if they haven’t yet decided to do something about it.
A given client might frame the problem differently than others you’ve worked with, and they may not have completely recognized the implications of their particular problems, but because you have solved similar problems, your experience will suggest the kind of questions you need to elicit crucial details from your prospects.
Figuring out how to compel your dream client to change starts with recognizing what should already be compelling them to change. There is no reason to start the sales conversation with a clean slate when you should already know why your previous clients changed similar behavior. You still need to give clients the time and space to discover some of their problems on their own—that’s the basis of modern discovery—but your problem-solving experience will generate valuable insights.
Overall, your solution solves a finite set of problems and allows you to help your clients produce better results. But as you gain experience solving these problems for others, you learn how your clients think and speak about their problems.
The direct experience of helping your clients solve these problems is valuable, but there are insights of greater value to you and your prospective client. You level up your insights when you are able to help your clients recognize “the ground truth,” i.e., the real problem they are solving, which may be very different than the “presenting problem.”
Behind the ground truth, the best salespeople develop insights on the factors that create real and often much more difficult problems. Those problems are systemic and require a different approach—something beyond your solution and something not easily improved by changing partners.
The reason it is difficult to create a compelling case for immediate change is that, even when your clients recognize their problems, some portion of them have already replaced a solution and changed partners, only to continue to suffer the same challenges. Over time, they grow immune to the idea that changing partners or solutions will help them much since they don’t want to go to all the trouble of changing only to be left in the same place.
The more you can provide your client with a wider aperture, one that lets in enough light to help them see and focus on the real, deeper, more challenging, and systemic problems—those with greater implications and consequences— the more valuable your insights will be, and the better you will be able to compel change.
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