This post was originally a Sunday newsletter. If you ever want to know what that newsletter is like, here is a sample.
This is a long and critically important piece of content. You may want to spend some time with it this week.
Selling well begins with understanding where your prospective client is in their decision-making. By knowing where they are in their process, you can better serve them, and you can also create a preference for you and your solution.
A Problem Worth Solving
You will find your prospective clients in one of three states.
The first state in which you might find them is the easiest and least likely. That is where they have a problem worth solving and they are compelled to solve it.
The second state you might find your prospective client in is one where they don’t know that they have a problem, and so they aren’t compelled to change. This is more likely where most of your clients are when you find them. You can see that they should be producing better results, but they don’t understand how those results are possible.
You might also find a prospective client who knows that they have a problem but are not compelled to solve it.
The more your approach serves the prospect where they are, the better your results. If they know they have a problem and are compelled to change, you help them do so. If they don’t know that they could be producing better results and that they should be compelled to change, you teach them what their problems are and how you can help solve them.
What about the third group, the group that knows they have a problem and won’t change. Some people actually have to experience the heart attack before they change their diet and start exercising.
- Is this change worth pursuing?
Identification of Root Cause and Compelling Vision
Sometimes your prospective clients need help understanding the root cause of their problems or challenges. They need help identifying a compelling vision of what their future should look like.
Good salespeople help their prospective clients solve the presenting problem or challenge they uncovered during their discovery. Great salespeople help their prospective clients find the root cause of those problems or challenges.
Good salespeople do an excellent job selling their solution. Great salespeople build a compelling vision of the future state, recognizing that the solution is valuable only as it relates to bringing that vision to life.
We think of discovery as coming to understand our prospective clients’ needs. But it’s more than that. They are also discovering the root cause of their challenge and a vision of a better future. This is what we do when we are at our best.
- What needs to change?
- Why should I change now?
- How will it be better?
Exploration of Alternatives and Options
You can sell much better when you understand what your prospective client is accomplishing during this stage. A limited view of an exploration of alternatives and options can cause you to sell poorly and lose opportunities.
And, in our sometimes limited view, we think that we are competing only with our direct competitors. But our first competitor is the alternative of doing nothing. The status quo tends to have a lot of supporters, and when change is difficult, this option often looks very good.
There are other alternatives that include doing something completely different than what you or your competitors may recommend. Some companies may outsource a whole segment of their business rather than bring in a supplier to help them do it themselves, for example.
One mistake we sometimes make in this stage is to show our prospective client a single solution rather than giving them choices and collaborating with them on the right ideas.
It’s true that in competitive situations we focus on how we compete and win against good companies with good people and good solutions, some better than ours. Good salespeople present solutions. Great salespeople present ideas, options, and a chance to collaborate on the solution and the outcomes.
- What are my choices?
- What are the trade-offs?
- What fits me the best?
Evaluation of Risks and Addressing of Fears
If there is a cardinal sin in selling it is believing that your role as a salesperson ends after you present your solution. Your prospective client still needs your help.
It’s normal and natural to have concerns before making a purchase. But the bigger the problem is, the more strategic the solution, the more compelling the vision, the more concerns your prospect will have about their risk. Your prospective client fears that the changes can be more difficult than they imagined, that they may fail, that they may not get the outcomes they need, that they may be embarrassed, and that things will be worse having tried and failed. Some or all of these may be true.
Good salespeople provide proof as a way to help their prospective clients evaluate the risk and address their fears. Great salespeople provide the counsel of a trusted advisor.
Instead of leaving their prospective client alone to think through the risks and fears, great salespeople schedule meetings and spend time helping them to make good decisions, to plan for unforeseen circumstances, and to mitigate any risks.
- Is how you sell in line with serving your prospective clients at each stage of their decision-making process?
- Do you know where your prospective client is in this process before you begin to sell?