Find Accidents Waiting to Happen
Strategic sales people are not problem solvers (fixers). What they are is fine tuners of their customer's thinking regarding their challenges about what potentially might need fixing. They give customers clarity, insight and context, while not fixating on any "grand fixing."
"People love to buy but they hate to be sold," says Jeffrey Gitomer. Your job is not to be a fixer, but to be a locater and assessor of problems. Find, locate and assess problems and you will greatly increase the chances you will be the solution. Most traditional sales people do the exact opposite.
Sales people need to deconstruct the customer's problem before they construct their solution. All problem resolutions start with customers taking stock of their circumstances; self-scrutiny facilitated by an unbiased sales person. This process involves a lot of trial and error.
Orthodox sales people (fixers) take the posture that what they have to offer is a definitive solution that only needs to be explained and proven. Where problem-centric sales people put all their effort in educating their customers through questions on the value and actionability of their problems.
Customers have to come to terms with what they have to give up or what they have to lose if they do not do business with you. On the flip side, they also have to come to terms with what advantages they will incur by maintaining the status quo. Problem-centric sales people walk the razors edge in helping customers construct both positions.
Sales people need to reinvent their value by helping customers self-educate themselves with all the viable options available so they can find their own truth. This is a difficult and burdensome task for Dr. Feel Good sales people whose goal is to "spread good cheer" wherever they go, making a real contribution to the "world of nice." These types of sellers are more interested in having the customer superficially feel good about their solution, instead of first determining how bad they feel about their problem.
A customer of mine was concerned with the problem-centric sales approach because it did not fill in the holes of the knowledge gap that they believe their customers needed in making a sound, informed decision. The reality is the biggest knowledge gap customers are experiencing is with the knowledge of their problems. The tough challenge is very few are aware of this and fewer will vocalize it. Remember it is not about you. Basically they only care about themselves—rightfully so.
Everyone has problems. But are their problems problematic? Beware that a lot of customer's problems are all smoke and no fire. And to find that out, you have to closely scrutinize their business. It is critical that you have trust, or your customer will not allow you the space to closely evaluate their most pressing challenges. You have to have someone feel very comfortable with you to have them share uncomfortable aspects of their business with you.
Like central banks, you need to have "stress tests" to measure customer's problems, their consequences and actionability. To do this you need to explore their past and potentially some of their dark secrets. This will sometimes result in what Dr. Tony Alessandra refers to as creating "positive attention." This is where you openly discuss problems, headaches, things that are not working and uncomfortable challenges, without your customer assigning responsibility to you for bringing them up. You are close to the problem, but distant to the emotions that might be surfacing. Traditional sales people do the exact opposite. They actually create negative tension because they do not ask the right questions, they do not listen to the important issues, and they do not get to the core of the customer's negative problems and issues.
Problem-centric sales people need to be in a constant state of rewind. Orthodox sales people are in a constant state of fast-forward. They are rushing to the resolution before knowing what the problems are that need to be resolved. Remember, by definition, you cannot provide a solution without first finding out what the problem is.
When you rewind the clock to the time of the customer's problem you can bring an insider-outsider lens to their problems. You can help evaluate their liabilities better and their motivations to change or not.
Customer so often have a false sense of security and well being because they know quite well the old saying, "An ounce of prevention is sometimes a ton of work." Like in any change, the repair can be more dramatic than the breakdown. Customers must come to terms with this so that they are properly informed about the cost of changing.