Recently someone responded to a LinkedIn post suggesting the most important thing for the salesperson to know is their product. There was a time when that might have been true, but that time has come and gone. Of course, it's important to know your product, but it isn't the most important thing in a consultative sale, a sale where counsel, advice, and recommendations are the primary value.
The person commenting on the post provides strong evidence of why surveys suggest buyers and decision-makers begrudgingly spend time with salespeople. Prioritizing your product, service, or your "solution" causes a lot of problems that prevent salespeople from winning deals they might have won, had they taken a different approach. The sooner and more you prioritize your product in the sales conversation, the less likely you will create the kind of value that would cause your prospective client to prefer to buy from you. The more your conversation helps the client decide, the more value you create, the greater their preference to buy from you.
Let us describe the idea that the product is the primary value in the sales conversation as "a detrimental reliance on product."
A Short Course on Two Major Sales Approaches
The first approach to selling is transactional. It makes sense to tell the buyer about the product and ask them to buy. The person who suggests the most important thing is knowing your product is correct when it comes to a buying decision where there is little harm from making a poor decision, even if they must repurchase. These sales are high frequency and low significance.
The second approach is a complex sale. These types of sales are the opposite of a transactional sale, as they are low frequency and high significance. You might not need to have a consultative approach to sell, say, an umbrella. But you might benefit from a more consultative approach when replacing your Enterprise Resource Planning software or choosing a partner that is going to deliver some strategic outcome over a very long time.
The Detrimental Reliance on Product
Salespeople who rely on their product to create value in early sales conversations will find it harms their results in a complex sale—one where the person is rarely called to decide, and one they can't afford to get wrong. It's easy to replace your umbrella and a nightmare to remove your ERP and replace it.
The reason a salesperson believes their product is the value in the sales conversation is because they don't have an approach that creates value for the prospective client, one that would enable a good decision and the better results they need. Lacking the ability to create value in the conversation and outside of the product, the prospective client is treated to a pitch, even if the pitch starts by asking about the prospect's problem.
You Sell Outcomes
The reason salespeople rush to talk about their product is that they believe it can solve the client's problem, an approach that harms their results outside of a transactional purchase (high frequency and low significance). In a more complex sale (low frequency and high significance), the problem that causes the client to buy something isn't the only problem they have, many of which can't be resolved by the product.
Lack of Understanding their Problem: Imagine a client who is called to decide for their business that they have only made one time in their life, say, nine years ago. This decision-maker doesn't understand why they can no longer produce the results the way they always have. Telling the client to buy the product isn't going to provide them with the confidence they need to move forward.
Lack of Knowledge to Make a Decision: The decision-maker is a smart businessperson, the kind that knows there are things they don't know. This person recognizes they don't know what they need to know to decide what to buy and who to buy from. Because the prospective client doesn't know what they need and what is going to be most important, the contact has no way to determine if it is the right for them.
Lack of Certainty: You should never be surprised that your contact isn't certain your product is right for them even though you have shown them a slide with logos of the clients who have bought your product. A prospective client who lacks certainty may need much more in the way of a conversation to be certain they are making the right decision, one that won't find them embarrassed and requiring a do over.
Why Products Fail to Compel
The salesperson who believes their product is the only value they need to win a deal is going to be stunned when they realize their competitors all have good products, many equal, and some better than theirs when it comes to some client's needs. Because they rely to their detriment on the product to do the heavy lifting in the sales conversation, they will not understand how or why the client chose to "go another direction."
The value in the sales conversation is limited to the salesperson's ability to help the client make a good decision, one that will ensure they choose the right partner and one that produces the outcomes the client needs, something unavailable to the salesperson who leans heavily on the product to create value in the sales conversation.
A consultative approach will find you pushing any conversation about your product or service later in the conversation. If you want to understand why salespeople believe that the product is the value is because they have been taught and trained to believe they need only find a problem to sell their solution. Many are still unaware of the problems they need to solve before their product has any real value.