When there is no difference in the client's experience from one salesperson to the next, the client has little to prefer one over the other. Because most salespeople are still taught and trained that their company and their solution is the source of their differentiation, they continue following their marketing department's mandate they start the conversation by sharing eight slides about their company. The product manager will have you explaining how your solution is different and why it's the key to the client's future success. This legacy approach requires you to ask your client about their problem, followed by an explanation as to why your solution is the best.
Over time, as your client's world has changed more–and faster–than ever before, this approach doesn't provide the experience or the appropriate value for your prospective clients. When every salesperson provides an experience so similar that you can't distinguish one salesperson from another, your contacts are left wanting something more. To create a preference to buy from you, you need to differentiate your approach in some meaningful way. To do that, you need to help your clients with a paradigm shift.
The Paradigm Shift
A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. The ability to cause a prospective client to change their approach or the assumptions they have relied on in the past is a powerful differentiator. Let's look at a couple paradigm shifts.
- Uber's paradigm shift was that you should not have to stand on a corner in the rain trying to hail a taxi. Instead, you should use an app to acquire a ride, and one that is clean and comfortable. You would be hard-pressed to go back to a taxi after using Uber.
- Airbnb’s paradigm shift was that you should not have to stay at a hotel. Instead, you can rent a house or an apartment, providing more privacy and a much better experience. Often, the better experience costs less than a hotel.
- At one time, I had a client that refused to increase their starting pay rate. The client's underlying assumptions were built on two beliefs. The first assumption was that labor was cheap. The second was that labor was abundant. But both of those assumptions were incorrect and outdated. To provide a paradigm shift, I showed the client the data proving that the world changed, and he had missed the inflection point when his assumptions inverted. The paradigm shift caused him to finally raise his pay rate.
Making the Paradigm Shift Stick
The paradigm shift provides your prospective client with an "aha moment," one that allows them to recognize that what they are doing or how they approach it must change. Some percentage of your contacts will immediately realize the paradigm shift, while others will struggle to believe that the way they have always done something is no longer the best choice. When someone has long held beliefs, it's difficult to remove and replace it with something new. When one's beliefs and the actions that followed allowed them to succeed, it can be difficult for some to have the "aha moment," or accept that they might need to change to continue to succeed or improve their results.
Insight-based sales approaches are useful for creating a paradigm shift, but the value of the insights is not the insights themselves. It's the paradigm shift or the "aha" moment that creates the value for your client, providing them with new potential and better future results. One way you make it easier for your clients to accept their new reality is with hard data, the kind that is difficult to refuse or refute. The value of third-party data in a modern sales approach is that bolsters your case, proving that what you are suggesting is true and not conjecture. You can argue with a salesperson, but it's difficult to argue with a dozen different of credible sources.
Mature leaders who are unafraid to leave the past and move towards the better future (that they are charged to deliver) aren't afraid of or intimidated by a paradigm shift. Even they ask challenging questions. Mostly they are vetting the shift, and your confidence and your credibility. But other stakeholders will resist the information. Without proving the world has passed your prospective client by, something occurring at a blistering pace in the 21st Century, it's unlikely you'll accomplish a paradigm shift, especially with a person whose identity is tied to the status quo or when they have incentives, they believe might be at risk should their company decides to change.
The Modern Sales Approach and Our Paradigm Shift
Professional B2B sales missed the inflection point that should have caused many sales organizations to change their sales approach. Because there is not one moment where everything changed, it's the infection point is easily missed. Like a lot of other inflection points, the paradigm shift in B2B sales occurred over a long period, the result of changes in our environment with implications that are difficult to discern when they occur.
You would be hard-pressed to help your prospective client experience a paradigm shift by asking them to disclose their problem and the pain it causes them. Any approach that suggests that the high mark for sales is to discover the client's problem is outdated and doesn't rise to the level that is can be called "consultative."
Those who help others to let go of their past and move towards a better future should lead by example, recognizing what's changed in their world and adapt to their current reality. That reality is one where your clients struggle with the uncertainty that causes them to hunker down and try to wait things out. Your approach needs to provide your client with a new experience, one that will feel different, and one that will enable your client to recognize their potential and the better results they are capable for producing, should they recognize the paradigm shift.