According to the legacy sales approaches, you are supposed to identify your client's problem and their pain. Once you have done that, you are supposed to explain how your solution can easily solve the problem.
For decades this is how salespeople were taught to sell. This pattern has directed salespeople during the discovery stage. Once they have identified the problem, they believe they have what they need to move forward and improve their clients’ results.
But there are other factors that, left unaddressed, will prevent your clients from improving their results, no matter how good your solution is. While the One-Down salesperson is unaware of the limits of their solution and their discovery, a One-Up salesperson will deepen their discovery by teasing out the behaviors that will prevent the client from generating better results.
What Clients Don't Tell You in B2B Sales
When you are young and inexperienced, the fact that your client is unhappy with their current provider is a good sign, as it means they are compelled to change. It's even better when they suggest that none of your competitors have been able to help them produce the results they need.
As the conversation continues, the client explains all the ways they have been disappointed by your industry. As you start presenting your solution as the answer to the client's problems, the client tells you says that they believe you and your solution are just what they need. What could be better than this? You leave the meeting, update your CRM, and create the contract. The client signs it digitally, and you are on your way.
Because you were looking for a problem that would lead to your solution, you didn't ask questions that might have allowed you to understand where additional problems were hiding. Sometimes this is intentional, as the client knows they are contributing to their problems. In other cases, the client doesn't know that their behaviors and preferences will prevent them from getting the results they need.
An Example of Behaviors That Limit Your Solution
The scenario above is real. It took several experiences and years of maturing to recognize that my clients contributed to their poor results in ways that my service could never overcome.
In staffing, I had clients who never disclosed information about what they were doing to make it impossible for any of my competitors to succeed. One large client had a few managers who didn't want to use our service, even though it was necessary. Their behavior caused people to quit because they were treated poorly, then the managers blamed my company and the employees. No matter how good a person was, they left after one day. Those same people went to work for other clients and were hired on into permanent roles.
You will often hear people suggest that training doesn't work. The truth is that when it does, it is because sales leaders and sales managers require their teams to make the behavioral changes that produce the better outcomes the sales organization needs. I have had sales leaders in large companies report that the expensive training they paid for didn't work. With a single One-Up question, the reason is revealed:
"Can you share with me your plan to ensure your team changes their behaviors, and how you will support their transformation?"
Once Bitten, Twice Shy in B2B Sales
After your client withholds information that would prevent you from helping them succeed, it’s easy to be skeptical when your contact starts to criticize your competitors. When someone suggests that no one in your industry has been able to help them, you can be sure your competitors are not to blame for the failure. You can also be certain that when you fail, the client will not say nice things about you.
As you run into problems that will prevent you from helping your clients succeed, you learn to address them in discovery by asking clients how they do things. This will help you understand what they will have to change if they want better results. There are certain changes that only the client can make, and if they aren’t willing to do so, you are likely to lose.
Your Role as a One-Up Salesperson
Your role as a One-Up salesperson is to know the obstacles that prevent your clients from improving their results. Some of them are the result of the client’s actions and preferences, and the client may not realize how they contribute to their poor results.
In other scenarios, the client will want you to help them improve their results, while insisting they must continue to do things the way they prefer. When this is true, you might be disappointed to walk away, but that is better than both of your companies being miserable while trying to produce better results without the client making the necessary changes.
The Nature of Being One-Up and Addressing the Limits of Your Solution
The nature of being One-Up is that your counsel, advice, and recommendations extend to anything and everything the client needs to know to improve their results, including their own behaviors, processes, and preferences. There is nothing the One-Up salesperson faces to avoid explaining that their solution can’t produce the expected results without the client making certain changes.
As soon as you hear a client suggest that "you salespeople are all the same" and "nobody can meet our needs," you have a choice: you can either explain how the client’s behavior has caused others to fail, or allow them to keep their story and walk away. While I wouldn't complain if you walked away, it's better to tell the truth and explain why the client is going to be perpetually unhappy, even if they don't change immediately. One of the things that makes you One-Up is speaking truth to power.