What If and What Could Be is Child's Play Compared to What is Not
The traditional art of persuasion is totally overrated as a critical skill set in sales. The science of finding the truth about a customer's problem and their pressure points is where sales opportunities are won and lost in the information economy. What is, what if, what could be is child's play compared to what is not.
Our entire society, culture, economy, media, educational system, and capitalistic engine is constituted and motivated by fear, insecurity, being left behind, and the guilt of not advancing and prospering fast enough. Ignoring this dark side of our society will cost you an untold amount of time, frustration and resources in your sales strategy. The discovery process of finding problems and positioning your offering around problem alleviation is ingenious, because your customer's ego cannot survive without struggle, uncertainty, fear and the obsession of not measuring up. It is the ultimate aphrodisiac that can never be fully satisfied.
As Jeff Thull says, "You cannot sell value without first defining the absence of value." Most sales people make the fatal mistake of just addressing the obvious logical needs of their customers. However, you are handsomely paid and rewarded when you address the hidden and not so obvious emotional, intangible and irrational problems of your customers.
All desires, opportunities, and visions of progress and advancement are a retribution for past failures and problems. "Desire, goals and motivation are just another form of fear," says Paul Ferrini. Your customer's initial reaction and trigger to looking at change is gain and progress, but the real motivation is to prevent and avoid problems.
Most sales people see smoke (problem indicators), but never fully examine the fire (real actionable problems). So in the world of sales where there is smoke there is not always fire. The greatest obstacle to the discovery of problems is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. "In a discovery sales call you are buying more than you are selling," says Marc Miller. Let your customers lead you to the gold by having them convince you of the value of their problems. Your highly valued treatise (solution) is not nearly as important as the value your customer assigns to their challenges and issues.
Some sales people will view the quest to find problems as being too time consuming, personal and a possible invasion of privacy. There is some truth to that claim if the customer does not value or trust your intent, insight and advice. But when the customer trusts you and is engaged, anything else is an impersonal, uncaring, disinterested and self-centered approach.
No problem by itself is intrinsically good or bad. No matter how seductive, accept no problem at face value. Only when you get to the root of the problem can you assess the actionability of it. Anything less is too superficial to bank on. Non-problems become problems only when they are actionable.
In many cases the goal of an effective sales call is not to bring new information to the table, rather to have the customer unlearn the false ideas and perceptions they have about their business and their problems. The least intrusive way to accomplish this is to have problems be self-revealed and be self-evident thru the quality of your questions. The same holds true for your solution. To make customers feel comfortable through this potentially uncomfortable process, the sales person needs to be neutral and withhold; judgment, quick fixes and blame.
"When you take your customer deeply and patiently into an experience, feeling it fully without escaping into a control pattern, you allow them to discover the truth for themselves and they obtain also a deep and abiding trust in themselves about their problems and their priorities," says Susan Campbell. If a customer has sealed off their emotions to a problem and have built a wall around it, it will be very unlikely that they will change, and you will be able to successfully pierce their armor of avoidance and denial.
Understanding your customer's problems really requires you to understand what they are thinking and also what they are feeling. To understand all the variables you must get to the bottom of both areas. Customers maddeningly so often think they want something, but deep down on a subconscious level they feel something totally different. When you integrate their thoughts and their emotional feelings, you can more effectively get to what their instincts are telling them what they want, or what their situation is seeking.
Successful resolution of all problems hypothetically just brings on a host of new problems. Help your customer navigate the big picture, not just your solution. "Problems do not operate in a vacuum. Like dominoes, there's usually a negative chain reaction," says Marc Miller. You need to follow the chain and connect the dots through mutual examination so you avoid fixing the wrong problem, or creating even bigger problems down the road.
Since all customers inherently know that new solutions ultimately create some new problems, make sure you help them understand realistically the pros and cons and the growing pains of change so that they can make better informed decisions. Help them bring more clarity to their decision process. By taking the high road you really brand yourself and differentiate yourself as more credible and trustworthy.
Lots of customer's problems have nothing to do with their stated problem, but have everything to do with underlining causes or beliefs that got them there in the first place. If you can address and fix the underlining issues you can really bring value. Be very careful in addressing problems of visionary entrepreneurs. Their lexicon often does not include the words; problems, challenges, frustrations, major hurdles. Everything to them is about growth. So tread lightly with these eternal optimists, otherwise it will be a real disconnect. Find the problems behind their need for growth and couch it in a more neutral language.
"If you don't know your customer's problems, their consequences, how they are measured and held accountable, then you don't know what you're selling," says Marc Miller. Spend 90% of your time playing to customers fear's, and then you can play the balance to their hopes and dreams.