It’s Not What You Sell, But How You Sell It

Blog71_NotWhatYouSell_HowYouSell-1Solution selling was built on the notion that we do our research on the prospect. We work to understand what keeps him up at night. We ask smart questions. Then, if the stars are all aligned, he will see the light and know our product/service is his best and right solution.

Well, let’s step back for a moment.  First, as I discuss in MERGE, I believe in great homework and understanding the issues the prospect faces.  Secondly, I believe sales people need to cultivate excellent questioning skills. More important, salespeople must hone their skills on how to run an effective meeting and manage an efficient sales process.

The Disconnect

Most prospects or upsell clients/customers don’t necessarily know what the ultimate solution looks like. To make matters worse, each complex sale presents with multiple decision makers who see things a little differently and have their own reasons for buying.

That’s why you need to build your sales process around how your prospect buys. In my last blogpost, I identified three types of thinking stages people pass through when making a decision. These three types of thinking were differentiated some thirty years ago by psychologist J.P. Guilford in his book The Nature of Human Intelligence.

Guilford’s clinical research showed that human decision making involves three distinct, but interrelated thinking processes, which serve the decision maker much like computer subprograms. These subprograms do not function haphazardly. In any decision-making process, even though the subprograms are different from and independent of each other, they almost always appear in the same order or sequence. It’s possible to subvert or ignore this sequence, but in any logical and coherent decision-making process, you will always encounter this same natural order:

  1. Cognition thinking allows the decision maker to understand the situation he or she is facing. At this phase your prospects asked themselves how big of a problem is this?     Do I want to address it now? Who else should I involve in looking at alternatives?

  2. Divergent thinking helps the person explore options and solutions. Buyers don’t accept the fact that there is only one solution.

  3. Convergent thinking enables the person to select the best solution.

Miller Heiman has taken Dr. Guilford’s research and thinking and through Conceptual Selling® applied it to the process for complex sales.

Sell the Way Prospect’s Buy

Good salespeople follow how people want to buy, and spend considerable time in the cognition and divergent phases as an educator. They win not by just understanding their prospect’s world, and the prospect himself, but actually knowing the prospect’s world better than he does. In this way, the salesperson can readily point out key areas his prospect overlooked.

According to research from the Sales Executive Counsel, 53 percent of customer/client loyalty is attributable to your ability to outperform the competition in the sales experience. More than half of client loyalty is built on how you sell it, not what you sell.

The same study indicates that only 38 percent of customer loyalty is attributable to your ability to outperform the competition on brand, product/service. And only nine percent on price.

These numbers paint a clear picture: It is the prospect’s sales experience and your sales process that wins the sale. As important as it is to have great products and services, and a recognizable brand, it’s all for naught if your sales reps can’t execute out in the field.

Often I hear from salespeople excusing their lack of performance to not having a great product. Nonsense.  When I sold life insurance as a funding vehicle for complex deferred compensation arrangements, it was not uncommon (after we had completed the sale and moved onto implementation) for the client to ask: “By the way, what insurance company and product are we using?”  The client cared about one thing. He bought a solution through a well-designed process.

Sales Process – The Commodity Buster

Many industries I work with today are having very difficult time getting traction with prospects. The prospect sees very little differentiation in products, brands or service. Personally, I think we spend too much time discussing differentiation among our competitors when customers don’t see a difference. Seriously. What is the major difference, in the customer’s eyes, between the two, top commercial real estate firms, commercial banks, insurance companies, retirement advisors, or engineering firms?

We focus on improving our products, services and spend money improving our brand, but so does the competition. All of this is the price of entry.  The sales process makes the difference.

The Power of Preparation

Customers/clients want their sales reps to bring value. Begin by doing your homework in advance of the meeting. That way you can bring a unique and valuable perspective on the problems facing the prospect Next, follow-through with divergent thinking to help them navigate alternative solutions.

Prospects seek useful knowledge and want to experience the sale in an organized fashion. They want to use your experience to avoid potential land mines. They look to suppliers to help them fix, accomplish or avoid things they might not have initially recognized.

Good sales people initiate great conversations around issues the prospect faces but has yet to quantify or think through his possible solutions.

The value of the sales rep’s insight and his sharing of new concepts and ideas will help fix, accomplish or avoid issues the prospect doesn’t see.  It’s not the quality of your product or service that wins, but the quality of the insight you deliver as part of the sale itself. And the best reps don’t win by discussing solutions the prospect has already considered, but rather by finding solutions others have overlooked.

 Here’s a brief illustration to drive home the point:



Tie Your Product to Their Vision

Successful reps help their prospect create a vision of what his/her solution should look like. Done in the cognition phase, the rep connects the solution to the prospect’s vision as they explore alternatives together in the divergent phase. Done correctly, the prospect self-discovers your solution, zeroing in on it in the convergent phase.

We’ve done a great deal of work at PleinAire Strategies over the last three years to help clients develop and implement a process based on best practices developed at the world’s leading B2B companies. The one discovery they all make:

  1. Pre-meeting research and meeting preparation is something you can’t just leave in the hands of your sales reps. Put a company-wide process behind it. If the primary goal of your reps going into a sales call is to “discover the customer’s needs,” you are already at a competitive disadvantage.

  1. Alternatively, reps need a solid process for helping prospects identify overlooked solutions  Encourage the prospect to play a major role in the sales process.

  1. You just don’t attend a three-day workshop, and off you go. The process must be embedded into the sales culture and reinforced with tools to improve and measure performance.

  1. Sales processes built from best practices of world-class B2B sales organizations become a common language, sequential, repeatable and measurable. It allows you to better access sales reps performance and adds more predictability to the sales funnel.

See you on the upside, Bill

P.S.  I’d like to recommend to you this excellent blog by Everett Hill, a very savvy sales leader: Sales Leadership News is a weekly resource dedicated to successful business-to-business sales organizations and the people who manage them. The practical thought leadership in its pages are backed by research in areas such as customer focus, innovation, and personal and organizational effectiveness. Recent articles addressed topics such as “What prevents a sales organization from achieving success?” and “The seven myths of win-win negotiations.”

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

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