Improving your sales results means helping your prospective clients in a more meaningful way, a way that is more valuable to them. Even though your solutions will no doubt help them, they’ll only derive those benefits if they decide to buy from you. To create that preference, you need to help them with a number of things before they ever hear a word about your solution.
The Case for Change
There was a time when the primary approach to sales was to schedule a meeting with your dream client to discover their “pain points,” “hot buttons,” or “dissatisfaction.” The model assumed that every client has a problem, is aware of that problem, and is seeking help. There is nothing wrong with traditional discovery when your prospective client already has a well-defined problem that they need to solve.
More often, however, even dissatisfied clients can be reluctant to change, believing that the difficulty and the risk outweigh the benefits. Problems don’t age well, and the older they are, the more they can harm a business. They can also become more expensive to correct in the future, which can be exacerbated by the need to move with urgency.
Helping your clients to change before change is necessary qualifies you as a trusted advisor. Proactively helping your clients change before they are harmed is more valuable—even if it is more difficult—than waiting until they are harmed to offer your help.
The Presenting Problem and What’s Real
When clients and prospective clients describe and interpret their problems and challenges, they often share what we might call “the presenting problem.” In medical terms, they share their symptoms without addressing the underlying illness.
Here’s a practical example. Say a client tells you that their equipment is outdated and that they need to upgrade it to keep up with customer demand. That problem is straightforward to solve, maybe even with your product. But later in the conversation, once you’ve proven to be a trusted advisor, your contacts confess that their VP of Operations has always used this equipment and doesn’t believe that anyone should ever use anything else. That’s a more complex problem, but the solution would be far more significant to your client.
You can make a sale by solving the presenting problem, but you provide your prospective clients with a higher level of value when you help them solve their real problems.
Teaching Buyers How to Buy
According to some so-called experts, you are supposed to believe that your buyers spend lots of time researching your product category and studying the industry. You are also supposed to assume that your buyer is following some well-designed journey designed to help them make good decisions for their company.
In other words, these experts would have you believe that your prospective client knows how to buy what they need and that the only thing you can contribute is doing what they ask of you without hesitation. Needless to say, this approach reduces the role of the consultative salesperson to something that resembles an “errand boy” or “errand girl,” not a value creator.
When your clients do have a buying process, it is invariably led by Purchasing and designed to be transactional and arm’s length, the very opposite of a consultative approach. Limiting the conversation to an RFP and a potential one-hour meeting, where you present to a group of people you are meeting for the first time, is not a smart way to make a rare but important business decision.
The way you help your clients make the best and right decisions for their business and their future results is by adeptly proposing a process that will help them better understand all the factors they need to consider, including the different solutions available to them. In short, the more time you spend with your prospective clients, the more you help them.
Filling in the Gaps
One of the main things salespeople worry about is that their prospective client knows more than they do, a belief that deprives them of the ability to be consultative. When the salesperson’s “enablement” has been little more than product training, they betray the fact that they don’t know enough to be truly helpful to their contacts.
While it is true that your client is all but guaranteed to know more about their business than you do, the odds are the same that you know more than they do about the intersection of their business need and the value you create. Your contact may buy oil and gas services, but that doesn’t mean they are studying all the factors that impact the industry—and their future. To create value, your expertise needs to fill a gap for the client, allowing them to outsource their need to understand that intersection to you— or to the better version of you, the one that would put in the time and effort to become an industry expert instead of an ordinary, run-of-the-mill salesperson.
You serve your contacts when you are able to fill a gap in their knowledge base and their lack of experience—they may know a lot, but you need to know more. When your contacts can rely on you to keep them educated, you allow them to focus on their business, knowing you will keep them abreast of anything that needs their attention.
Resolving Client Concerns
Even when you make an unassailable case for change, one that your contacts support without any reservations, they can still resist changing because some members of their team have concerns. They are concerned about whether or not the change is worth the effort, that the higher price isn’t going to produce better results, that they will fail, that you will let them fail, and/or that someone is going to believe they made a poor decision.
The fact that a prospective client doesn’t directly inform you that they have these concerns doesn’t mean they are 100% confident and comfortable moving forward with you and your solution. It also offers you no information about the other people who were engaged with you through the process or the people who will be affected by any change. Of course, believing that none of this is your concern means leaving your client alone with a problem that you are better suited to help them handle.
The more you focus your effort and energy on improving your ability to serve your contacts throughout the sales conversation, the more you improve your ability to create and win new deals. You are not only helping them with a decision, but you are also helping them change and improve their business—and their results.
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Filed under: Sales