Beyond Solution Selling
At a time when organizations seek to sell ever more complex products, services and solutions, B2B customers/clients are buying differently. They display more reluctance and exert more care in decision making than ever before.
In reality, customers/clients today are rewriting their purchasing processes to uncover best solutions at a lower cost. They research information in advance arming themselves with more knowledge about various solutions or alternatives to their needs. The upshot for solution providers: Product-driven approaches are dead and status quo (stay with what they already have) has become our biggest competition.
Here’s one observation that always surprises me. When I am out on speaking engagements, I noticed more than 80 percent of program agendas at national sales meetings focus primarily on new product launches. Does that make any sense?
Fortunately, over the last decade, many organizations have adopted various solution-selling models. This migration from product focus to consultative selling is taking deep roots. And this makes sense because it leads prospects to products verses leading with our products. When this shift occurs to solution selling, it results in prospects expecting you to help them solve a real problem―not just pitch your products.
The days of cold calling prospects with a general “I’d like to get together and share some ideas on how I have helped other companies similar to yours,” doesn’t work anymore. Senior-level people, due to limited resources today, are not interested in listening to a sales pitch. Successful salespeople excel at understanding the prospect’s issues; they are well organized for their initial meeting with knowledge and well-thought-out questions around the key issues facing the prospect.
According to CSO Insight, 53 percent of sales organizations report that fewer than half of first meetings ever reach a second meeting. Why? Lack of preparation combined with the inability to bring value to the prospect.
Miller Heiman’s research shows conclusively that many sales calls are too general, too “preliminary” and unfocused to be useful to either buyer or seller. That’s why we need to set the prospect’s expectations upfront with what we teach in our Conceptual Selling® programs as a Valid Business Reason (VBR). The VBR is the pivotal reason why you land a meeting or not. To know your VBR from the prospect’s perspective, you do your homework far in advance.
The Pivotal VBR
The VBR follows logically from your research. For example, read this VBR from a client who sells LED lighting to businesses:
“Knowing how important improving the margins on the ABC Mall is, our research shows you can lower your energy costs. We have found substantial savings and incentives that are available to you right now that can reduce your energy cost by as much as 50%. Can we schedule a time to meet next Tuesday?”
Without a VBR, don’t pick up the phone or send an email until you develop one.
Meet People under Favorable Conditions
To cinch that initial meeting, you must carry your credibility with you, and prove it in an authentic way. Without initial credibility (in most new opportunities, it won’t be apparent yet), you need to leverage your network. For me, is a highly valuable resource. I can’t tell you the numbers of times I am working on an opportunity then discover via LinkedIn I have had contact with an organization previously. A pleasant surprise, indeed.
In a recent RFP (request for proposal) I entered the prospect’s organization into LinkedIn and found I was only two degrees away from one of the decision makers. He was connected to one of my clients. It turned out that my contact’s organization was its largest client. I secured the meeting with credibility and under favorable conditions with my VBR.
You can leverage credibility as I did, but once in— you need to earn it. The best way to leverage your credibility is through fact-based knowledge about the prospect’s business, industry, along with a meaningful understanding of the issues faced.
You bring a refreshing dose of credibility into the meeting if the prospect searches you and finds content you published such as videos, ebooks, blogposts. A good content marketing strategy will set you apart from others as a subject-matter expert. Be sure you’ve earned a spot on Google’s golden triangle at the top of the search page with what Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute calls “epic” content.
Whichever way you connect to a mutual relationship, your credibility, supported by your VBR, becomes powerful magnet to the sale.
The Decision Making Process
While so much has changed on how prospects acquire information, the strategies, tactics and activities of opportunity management has not. Prospects can review all of your marketing content before they engage with you or your competition. They can read all the product sheets, white papers and customer/client case studies. They can view on demand webinars whenever they want. This open access in many ways replaces the sales professional’s role in dispensing general information.
But the need for sales professionals to translate these capabilities into the context of their prospect remains wholly intact because every prospect makes decisions differently and for different reasons.
Activities, comparisons and decision points are common from buyer to buyer, but each buyer works in a unique environment with his own concept of business value and benefit. Thus, they expect to receive the benefit from any product or solution within the context of their worldview. This reality demands sales professionals with fluency in proven strategies for opportunity improvement.
That’s why, according to Miller Heiman’s 2014 Sales Best Practice Study, 93 percent of world-class sales organizations say: “Our organization is highly effective in allocating the right resources to pursue large deals,” compared to 36 percent of all respondents.
Effectiveness in Allocating Right Resources to Pursue Large Deals
When the entire organization zeros in on customer needs, augmented with a solid understanding of where the prospect resides in the buying process, resources will allocate more strategically to move the prospect through the sales process. The entire selling organization rises up to a higher level of efficiency and effectiveness.
As Miller Heiman indicates to accomplish this goal . . “Recognition of what constitutes a large or complex deal and how to prioritize scarce resources requires a shared understanding of the customer context, desired outcomes and where they are in their decision dynamics. This demands that the sales professional, manager and other resources review and assess each opportunity through the common lens of the organization’s customer – management strategies. In the absence of the natural and regular use of these strategies, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the resources, not the opportunity where they can have the greatest impact.”
Seven Net Takeaways
It is more difficult to set up initial meetings with prospects today.
Your approach must stand out from the crowd. Do your homework.
You must fully understand your prospect’s business, industry and issues faced today.
You must establish a Valid Business Reason based on your in-depth research.
Make the VBR short, concise and compelling enough to leave on voice mail or in e-mail.
VBR must give the prospect a reason to meet and to set the meeting as a high priority.
- Once inside, manage the opportunity by understanding the prospect’s buying vision, buying process and composition of the decision making team.
Remember, a well-thought-out strategy will increase your closing ratio and automatically begin to change your focus on only the best opportunities.
See you on the upside, Bill